"I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead."

It was July 1, 1997. I know because that’s the date given when I checked on IMDb.

I walked into the dimly lit, catina-styled bar which was the favorite haunt of several of my friends and me during those days. Sitting there, nursing his scotch and Coke was The Drunken Frenchman, his haggard, craggy face bearing an obviously immense weight that made him appear to be even surlier than he often was.

“What’s wrong, Frenchman?”

The Frenchman barely glanced up, mumbling, “I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead.”

Although only ten years older than me, The Frenchman belonged to another generation. As I had learned much from him about pop culture that had occurred before I was old enough (or even alive) to experience it, I was quite willing to defer to his assessment of Mitchum as the paragon of cool and the maven of manliness.

The Frenchman remained sullen throughout the evening and I understand why more so as the years pass. The icons of his youth were shuffling off this mortal coil on a too regular basis.

As he existed in a near vacuum – no phone, no internet (which, granted was in its infancy), no cable – he relied on others to inform him of each grim piece of news. As we worked together most mornings in a record store, it was often me that would arrive and ask, “Did you hear…”

The Frenchman was, quite possibly, the most knowledgeable person I have ever known about rock music from its birth to the early ’80s. It was the early ’80s – and a confluence of synthesizers and bands like Kansas and REO Speedwagon – that had caused him to wash his hands of much of the new music which followed. The names of the deceased who we’d toast – barely familiar to me – were his touchstones.

I had never known a world without Beatles. He could tell me of their every move and where he was when it occurred. And someday soon, we will live in a world where the Beatles are nothing more than spirits.

And the ghosts keep getting closer to me. Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright passed away today.

By the time I became serious about music, Pink Floyd was nearing the end, but, like most teenaged boys, I spent many hours listening to Animals, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side Of The Moon.

I grew up with Pink Floyd’s music, but I wasn’t entirely connected to it – not like The Drunken Frenchman, who had probably bought Meddle on vinyl the day it was released.

But someday, the day will come.

Bono will die.

Or Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons.

One will die.

And another.

Soon I’ll be learning of deaths and struggling to place the name. Even those who didn’t have much importance to me, names of those were merely the window dressing of my childhood, will become a steady procession of flickering images growing more distant.

So, Frenchman, wherever you are, a toast to Rick Wright, sir.

Pink Floyd – Wot’s…Uh The Deal

Pink Floyd – Us And Them

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd – Sheep

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11 Responses to "I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead."

  1. whiteray says:

    What an extraordinary essay! (I am of the Frenchman's vintage, I would guess, and sadly note, too, the passing of those who lighted my youth. (Perhaps appropriately, I am listening to Jay Bennett & Edward Burch perform "Isn't It A Pity" from "Songs From The Material World – A Tribute To George Harrison" as I write.) Nicely done!

  2. Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas says:

    Thanks for the kind words, whiteray. Oddly enough, I originally scribbled these thoughts a couple of years ago following the passing of Syd Barrett and cleaned it up once I heard about Rick Wright.

  3. DJ Bald Spice says:

    Hey that’s an excellent essay. I was born in 1959 and started to really get into music in around 1969. My heroes are Bowie, the Who, Beatles, Stones, the Clash, the Pistols and many more. Now all these guys are getting older and as time passes more of them will be on the bill for the Great Gig In The Sky. We’ve already lost a few.

    But time and the world and music goes on and I will always have what those who have departed left behind

    Rock on

  4. […] My Regards To The Eye In The Sky, Mr. Woolfson The Drunken Frenchman, whom I have mentioned numerous times, would often inform me of the passing of someone – usually the member of some band whose […]

  5. […] as The Drunken Frenchman would have said, they were exactly the same but completely […]

  6. […] Our usual barkeep, a slight, blonde cat who I think had once played in a band, would be playing Elvis Costello or Black Crowes and The Drunken Frenchman would invariably remind us that “Earl knows when I’m here it has t… […]

  7. […] As if the universe knew of this impending soiree, I received a rare e-mail this morning from Kelso, one of our friends. We had all worked together at a record store in the mid-’90s and he had news of The Drunken Frenchman, who had also worked with us in the same store. […]

  8. […] Perhaps the Frenchman was merely very, very drunk. […]

  9. […] The Drunken Frenchman would often point out less recognizible luminairies like Robert Fripp, Albert Lee or session saxophonist Jim Horn. […]

  10. […] stop by Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas for a moving meditation on the passing of folks whose art matters to […]

  11. […] I knew the name and some of the credits of Moira’s late husband, but it was over drinks that The Drunken Frenchman educated our usual group from the record store on the staggering list of legendary albums and songs […]

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