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No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn

by anna at 11:56 AM on October 25, 2003

I mentioned Lowell George in a comment recently. Suffice it to say I know way more than necessary about this guy.

In the late 60s he and pianist Bill Payne were recruited into Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. A guitar virtuoso himself, Frank demanded no less from his cohorts. He wanted not only crack musicians, which George and Payne were, but teetotallers in his own image. When he found out his proteges had gone astray, he promptly booted them. What would later become Missing Persons was brought in as replacements.

Little Feat was formed as an offshoot of MOI. Their first two albums epitomized what would later be known as grunge: Raw, stripped down but with a healthy dollop of edge and irony. (Telephone was ringin', they told me it Chairman Mao. I don't care who it is, I just don't wanna talk to him now.) Little Feat then entered its commercial prime with the release of the twin gems Dixie Chicken and Feats Don't Fail Me Now. Most of the material on their live opus Waiting for Columbus was culled from these albums. My friends and I were there for that series of shows at Meriweather Post Pavilion. If there'd been any more electricity in the air it would have been Florida's death chamber.

We were partying in the parking lot when my date noticed a mustachioed figure slouched against a wall, smoking--- the picture of studied LA nonchalance. "That's Billy Payne," she whispered. We approached him and asked if he'd like to partake with us. After a long pause he drawled, "My partying days are over but the other guys would be delighted." With that we were escorted backstage to behold a scene of debauchery I won't even try to describe. What struck me most was what a regular guy the by-then legendary George was. At some point my date slipped him her phone number with a note that read, "Give me a call sometime." He stuffed it in his shirt pocket along with all the others, with an impish grin plastered across his mug. We were sure he'd lose it like you do those mysterious credit card receipts you find in your pocket the morning after.

By that time world-class lead guitarist Paul Barrere had joined the band. They toured the globe and served as the backup band for the late Robert Palmer and Bonnie Raitt. But they never quite hit the big time in terms of record sales. They'd bicker, disband and then reunite. Though it all the LA natives (oxymoron?) developed this weird bond with the DC area, where they were the hottest ticket going. Elsewhere they were the poor man's Eagles.

During one of those breakups George completed his wistful, almost fatalistic solo project Thanks I'll Eat It Here. And to look at him, the composer of Fat Man in the Bathtub had been doing entirely too much of that among other things. He'd ballooned up to 260 pounds and his face had grown grotesquely bloated. That famous boyish enthusiasm had drained from his demeanor.

Touring behind this modestly selling album he played Constitution Hall, a smallish venue downtown. Most of the tunes were from that album but as Little Feat's leader and chief songwriter he felt free to dust off a few old chestnuts, much to the crowd's delight.

Afterwards he retired to the posh Watergate Hotel. He phoned my pal. George never lived to see another sunrise, but she said he looked content when she last saw him. He was found dead alone, survived by his long-suffering wife Elizabeth. The band later reformed and released some lackluster albums. But Little Feat without Lowell George is like pasta without any sauce.

Check out Waiting for Columbus instead. Listen to the piano break on Willin'. George goes, "Mr. Billy Payne" but his words are so slurred for the longest time I thought he said, "He's an old hand." Which in fact he was, just way before his time. But at least he died happy, trying to remember to forget.

Here's to you, Lowell.

comments (6)

Amen. I don't know too much about him, but that's touching. "Remember to forget" is one of my favorite lines. I'm sure many people have thought of it at different times, but the first time I read it was in a William Gibson book.

by jean at October 25, 2003 4:38 PM

Oh, and I'd like to add that I wanna shake your hand, for using it in the first place! I love that.

by jean at October 25, 2003 4:44 PM

It's amazing how often you hear that such clever lyrics or lines were purloined from old books. Bob Dylan was famous for that. I also think it's cool that when pressed about the Deep Social Significance of some of his work, he'd just shrug and say he was just looking for something that rhymed. That's the thing, to remember to forget.

by anna at October 26, 2003 7:38 AM

I think that's a good tack. I'm always suspicious of authors (or any artists) that talk too much about their own works. The point is to make something and let people draw their own conclusions, imho. Botticelli isn't around anymore to explain The Birth of Venus, but that doesn't diminish our ability to enjoy it. Take that recent incident where people said whole lines from Love and Theft were lifted from a Japanese author... the author said he didn't mind, and I think he understands real artistry better those who insist he should sue. I thought Dylan used the passages very creatively, anyways. I'd pee my pants if Bob Dylan ever cribbed ANYthing I'd written. Maybe that goes without saying!

by jean at October 31, 2003 10:02 PM

Er, "better THAN those," I mean.

by jean at October 31, 2003 10:03 PM

...this reminds me of Jerry Garcia's cryptic response to the perpetual "what do the lyrics really say?" which was always, "well, y'know, they say diffedrent things to different people i guess." Partner Robert Hunter says he really agonized over the release of the lyrics in book form, killing their fluidity forever.

by tekno at January 3, 2005 12:22 AM

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