As the time to the end grows shorter and the time from the beginning longer, my view of the journey has been altered mightily. Two recent deaths have brought this home as death often does.
I started collecting 45 rpm single records when I was about ten. I have the original Purple People Eater record and a bunch of stuff by Jimmie Rogers, the Everly Brothers, and the Coasters. I fell in love with rock and roll long before there were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Nonetheless, I was a huge Stones fan in their heyday. Thus, the passing of Charlie Watts marks yet another irreplaceable loss.
Mr. Watts was a master drummer with a love for bespoke tailoring and jazz. He actually founded jazz combos after his fame with the Rolling Stones was solidified. In a band that was composed of truly unique and flamboyant members, Mr. Watts stood back. Many never heard him speak let alone sing, but if you want to appreciate his contribution to the history of rock and roll just listen to Satisfaction, Beast of Burden and Honky Tonk Woman. He drove the Stones while following the lead of Jagger and Richards, the writers and front men. As Paul McCartney said, “Charlie was a rock.” I think that his crowning contribution was on Beast of Burden as so much of the song is spare beyond the Jagger vocals, yet every note is key to conveying the meaning of the words and the sentiment of the music. The drumming is masterful.
Now, there are only two members of the original Rolling Stones still with the band and two of those original five members are now dead. So are half of the Beatles, half of the Monkees and half of Jefferson Airplane. It is sad beyond belief that we will never hear or see the original lineups again, but at least we have the film and the television appearances. Charlie Watts could always be seen taciturn behind his drum kit keeping a remarkably steady beat as his bandmates cavorted for the camera. He shall be missed.
I was also checking in on my co-authors from years back to see what they are up to. One of my first was one of the most talented physicians I ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Steve Gunther ended his career as chief of orthopedic surgery at the Washington Hospital Center, but I knew him in 1975 when he was serving at Bethesda Naval Hospital where we NCI clinical associates (we were lieutenant commanders in the U.S. Public Health Service) could get free medical care. I had visited the podiatry clinic because I could not shake severe pain on the top of my right foot when I ran. X-rays revealed an aberrant os supravicularis at the site of the pain. Ed Hochstein, my podiatrist, felt it had to be removed if the pain was ever to relent and he called in Steve to help with the surgery. I was to be placed under a spinal block for the procedure, but something got crossways with anesthesiology and they did the procedure under a lot of Valium and local blocks. It worked. Then they asked my parents to get their feet x-rayed for comparison. Indeed, my mother had the same aberrant ossification center in her right foot. We assumed there was a genetic link. We wrote me up and published it. I was the subject of my first paper. In a way, it was self-experimentation before the age of the institutional review board.
I kept in contact with Steve when he left the service and followed his success at the Washington Hospital Center including sending him a patient. Steve was a gentleman, a scholar and a great amateur hockey player. It thus saddened me greatly to learn he had died of covid last year.
No two people could be more different than Charlie Watts and Steve Gunther, but both meant a lot to me. Their passing leaves yet another hole in my past life and the stark realization that life is short and mine has been long to date for which I am grateful. As a great scholar friend of mine, Rabbi Sam Karff said before he died, “I feel sad, but I don’t feel cheated.” Amen.