Jon Fishman has posted a touching tribute to his friend, Col. Bruce Hampton, who passed away earlier this week following an onstage collapse at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta during a concert celebrating his life, music and overall vibe. Such a sad story, but reading this makes me hopeful that everyone has some closure to seeing their friend pass in such a public manner.
He made everybody comfortable in their own skin, and as a result it always brought out the best in all of them. That’s why he was always surrounded by so much excellence. Not just in music, but in humanity. In intent.
Bruce’s intent was love. Period. I never heard him put that word to it, but he was all about intent. His mantra was “Intent, Release and Recovery”, but everything always started with intent.
Over the 27 years I’ve known him, in basically every encounter I had with him or interaction I witnessed him in, the love in his intent was consistently among the purest and most powerful I have ever known. It was like a sun. Seriously. It had gravity. It created orbits. And for those of us who experienced it one way or the other, if perhaps even only from afar, it had more of an impact than we could have ever realized at the time. But whether we knew it or not, since the first time we encountered it, it altered us, changed us, touched us, affected us…and from that point forward it permeated our beings and has come through the music we play, the gigs we book, the articles we write, the concerts we promote, the audience members we are, the food we cook….the grace with which we handle the challenges of life.
He didn’t take most things too seriously (and that obviously rubbed off quite a bit on more than a few of us!), but for what he did, the degree of intention to his intent also meant that he was really not fuckin’ around. And at the pinnacle of his musical life, in front of a sold out crowd at arguably the most beautiful theater in the country, with a stage full of the most talented collective I’ve ever been a part of, ranging in age from our early teens to our mid 70’s, supported by equally talented promoters, managers, caterers etc,….ALL of whom were there because they LOVED the man for how good he made each and every one of them feel about whatever they brought to the table….he sang out one last time “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine” with all the love in his heart, and he meant every word just as he always did, but this time the intent overwhelmed the vessel.
As we were walking away from the venue in the shock and confusion of the moments after his collapse, a fellow musician posed the question,”Did he really just take it THERE?” Yep. Yes he did. He just took it there.
That was the Release. A lifetime’s worth of everything that a life as full as Bruce’s could contain.
Besides the consistency with which Bruce valued Intent and adhered to the Now he had an equally deep appreciation for good showmanship, and an extraordinary eye for talent. He being Exhibit A of the former, and absolutely all the members of the various bands he lead being examples of the latter. He also had a tremendous sense of humor which allowed him to embrace the ludicrousness of virtually everything with good nature and a deep laugh. I once asked him how the hell he put together band after band of the baddest mother*#%~!’s I’d ever seen on whatever instruments and his response was, “Fish, every band only needs one wrecking ball. They put it up and I tear it down!!”
Being that as it is, I find it virtually impossible to view the manner in which he departed as anything other than the ultimate theatrical accomplishment / practical joke / paradoxical, expressionistic heeeyyeeaarrrr whaaaaahhho ah! haa ha ha hhhaaaaaa….intended to elicit the entire range of human emotion and response in one fell swoop; to seamlessly transition from shine-ee to shine-er in one love intent filled moment leaving us all laughing, crying and astonished at the same time.
I just can’t help feeling that being in the moment, as always, he saw the opportunity to make it as real as it gets, comparable to nothing, and took it. And I believe he took it for our benefit, certainly not at our expense, because that could never be his intent. But still, to intend it is one thing… to actually pull it off?!?!
Viewed from this angle It’s certainly the greatest act of showmanship I expect to ever witness in my lifetime short of spontaneous combustion…which I hope to accomplish someday in his honor!
And therein, for me, lies the trick, the humor, the mystery, the essence of who Bruce was. This time, with all the love he could muster and what surely could have only been the best intent, he went “out” once again, but this time he didn’t come back. This time he left the Recovery to us, but not before turning the light he sang for around and giving us all a quick glimpse of the richness of our own humanity in its glow, and a lasting mental picture of what a roomful of good intent looks like.
I realize that not everyone will view the moment of his departure through the same celebratory and even humorous lens as I, but it is my intent that my words ring true in regards to who Bruce was/is, and that the love and appreciation I have tried to express for him and what he has brought to my life speaks to some degree to anyone else who knew him in whatever capacity, be it for a minute or a lifetime, and that it brings some measure of assistance to the healing process.
But if my words still leave any doubt as to whether the manner in which Bruce left was right in line with who he really was, and something to celebrate rather than lament, Bruce’s own words from a 1970 interview on the question, “What is Grease?” say it better than any of us ever could anyway: “See, our main ambition in life aside from growing a bosom on top of our heads is to die on stage and when we die on stage that will be when we ultimately reach Grease.”
Bruce, I hope that in whatever greasy reaches of the Omniverse your travels take you, your love light shines as brightly as it did here on earth. We will all miss you and we all thank you, sir, for your service.