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FIND SOME HEALING IN THESE SONGS: part 2 John Stewart Bloodliners Festival


19 Jan 2008

This report and obituary was posted at the time of the death of John Stewart  by his long time friend, Tom De Lisle.

My friend John Stewart died this morning in San Diego, California … in the hospital he was born in on September 5th, 1939 … 68 years ago.

John suffered a massive stroke or brain aneurysm early Friday morning in San Diego.  Doctors had determined that any difficult surgical remedies that might have been employed to save his life– even if successful — would have left John immobile and unable to speak.  It wasn’t generally known, but doctors had told John in recent years that he had apparently experienced various minor strokes, likely in his sleep.

In the early 1970s, Stewart wrote “Cooler Water, Higher Ground,” one of his many highly personalized songs, in which he sang “I was born in the heat of September, and I died in the cool of the fall … borning and dying we do all the time, it don’t mean much of nothing at all.”  But his passing will mean so much, to so many, around the world.

photo 1 buffy ford John’s all-time companion and wife Buffy, and his children — Mikael, Jeremy, Amy, and Luke — were at his side when he passed peacefully around 7:30 am Pacific time.  John never regained consciousness after collapsing in his hotel room late Thursday/early Friday, and was not in pain during his time at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.

John Stewart leaves a compilation of musical excellence unparalleled in his time.  He recorded over 45 solo albums following his seven years in the Kingston Trio, 1961-67.  He worked all the way up to the time of his death, having recently completed his latest as-yet untitled album.  It is estimated that he wrote more than 600 unique and highly personal songs, many of them constituting a modern musical history of his beloved America.

He leaves behind a wide-ranging group of fans who have felt a passion for him and his music that bordered on fanaticism.  Chief among them are the Bloodliners, a hard-core legion of supporters who communicated via computer everyday in discussing John and his career.

It can now be said that John was told last summer, shortly before Trio Fantasy Camp 8, that he was suffering from the initial stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  That news was kept from the public in the hope that his condition would stabilize and allow him to work in the following years until the disease took its eventual toll.  Indeed he had stabilized in the time since Camp, and was able to bravely perform several concert showsand do the studio work on his new album.

If there is a blessing in his passing, it is that he will now be spared the true ravages of that awful disease.  He will not suffer the gradual personal mental reductions caused by Alzheimer’s, though he had already lost his ability to drive, owing to California law.  In fact, one of the new songs on the upcoming album is “I Can’t Drive Anymore,” a typically honest and emotional personal reaction to his situation.

Speaking personally, losing John creates a hole in my soul.  I had agonized for months over the Alzheimer’s prognosis.  But after talking with many of his friends and family yesterday, I can see that — facing a debilitating future — it was — and this is so hard to say –the right time for him to go.  This is what he would have wanted, in light of what he ultimately faced.

Johnny always drew a crowd and there was a gathering of friends at the hospital in San Diego over the past two days.  Starting with Nick Reynolds from John’s Trio days and his wife Leslie, John’s entire family had been joined at his bedside by longtime sidekick Dave “Dave” Batti, John Hoke, Chuck McDermott, Greg Jorgenson, John’s boyhood best friend George Yanok, who flew in from Nashville upon hearing the news, and other family, friends, and acquaintances.  A kind of “Irish wake” was held throughout Friday and into early Saturday, with the friends and old bandmates sharing many of the limitless John Stewart stories.

I’m so sorry to have to write this, to have to tell you this.  Outside my closest family members, John was the brightest light of my life.  This creates an emptiness that can never be filled.  If you are tempted to mourn to great lengths today, as so many of us surely are, we have to remind ourselves of what a gift he was for all of us.  We all were so lucky to have had the opportunity to have shared in his amazing music and stage artistry.  We might, each of us, have missed him, you know.  But–lucky for us–we didn’t.

He hated moping around, and looked for the bright side, and laughter, in everything.  He wouldn’t even allow me to be ‘down’ about having cancer.  He even berated me at one point about it.  He had amazing drive, and a creative force within him that was stunning in its intensity and breadth.  And some day his amazing personal songs will be discovered by a mass audience, and the world at large, and he will receive the wide-ranging accolades he was denied in his time.

Because, like you … I loved him too.

Trust me.  Think about him today, listen to that incredible body of his work, think about the electric personality we experienced in EVERY show he did … in the literally thousands and thousands of performances in which he gave us everything he had, stretching from venues big and small, from coast to coast, from 1957 to 2007.  You will smile when you do; and eventually laugh when recalling the magic of his art and personality.  We will not see his like again, but we have been so lucky to have shared him across the decades — and found each other through him, because of him.   It does not feel like it, but we are the lucky ones today.  That will become evident in the time to come.

Tom De Lisle – 19 January 2008

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