The great American poet Robert Lowell once wrote about how “the blind swipe of the pruner and his knife is busy about the tree of life”; and as 2016 comes to a close, it is apparent from this disquieting list of significant souls that passed over to the Great Beyond over the past 12-months that a lot of deep cutting occurred, forcing us to face the elements with a much thinner herd.
Each of these individuals were special, unique, and irreplaceable. May they each live eternal in our memory and fortify us with their strength, wisdom, and courage as we turn the page into 2017.
It was on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2015 that one of Old Town Saginaw’s signature musician’s passed away unexpectedly. Known for his big-hearted spirit and affable manner, Charlie played the mandolin with such early folk/roots/Americana groups as The Boys of Joy and The Purple Warblers, which included his ever present musical companion Mike ‘Eastside’ Smith, Bill Fiebig and Iris Furlo. He also enjoyed playing Santa Claus during the Christmas holiday; and due to his big-hearted nature, could always be trusted to fit the role perfectly.
January 10, 2016: After an 18-month battle with cancer, legendary musician/artist/fashion visionary David Bowie passed away surrounded by his family. He was 69. Bowie's knack for blending musical styles like rock, jazz, cabaret, dance, electronica, and soul helped him create some of the most iconic songs in Rock ‘n Roll history. His first album, David Bowie, was released in 1967, followed by remarkable offerings like Space Oddity (1969), The Man Who Sold the World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971), and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). In 1975, he achieved international success with his album, Young Americans and the single, "Fame." Other memorable songs from his 40-year career include: “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Changes,” “Under Pressure,” “China Girl,” “Modern Love,” “Rebel, Rebel,” “All the Young Dudes,” “Panic in Detroit,” and “Fashion.” In addition to his musical prowess, Bowie found another artistic outlet in film, starring in movies like Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Labyrinth. Just a month before his death, Bowie's rock musical, Lazarus opened on Broadway. His final album, Blackstar, was released January 8, just two days before he passed away
January 17, 2016: Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey died at the age of 67 due to complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia. Frey was born in the Motor City and sang back-up vocals while still in High School on Bob Seger’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man. He co-wrote some of the bands most famous hits, like "Desperado" and "Hotel California," and Frey also provided vocals for songs like "Take It Easy," "Heartache Tonight," and "Lyin' Eyes." His 1982 solo album, No Fun Allowed, cracked the top 40 with "The One You Love,” “Smuggler’s Blue,” “Sexy Girl," and other hits.
January 29, 2016 was the sad date that my remarkable friend Sharon Bush passed away, encircled by her loving family at the age of 62, finally succumbing to the ravages of a complicated 30-year journey of cancer survival that served as a blueprint of incomprehensible courage, strength, and an inexplicable optimism that always wagered heavy upon the ability of the human spirit to soar above whatever ravages arise to diminish our ability to flourish and rise to the pinnacle of our dreams. Sharon was misdiagnosed by Saginaw Dr. Paul Dake back in 1986 and developed cervical cancer; and despite developing numerous complications over the years, managed to survive & overcome incomprehensible personal & physical struggles for nearly half her life with a courage that made the gates of hell recede; and a generous zest to embrace the brilliance of life that was as awe-inspiring as it was a privilege to be included within the circle of her graciousness.
The Great Lakes Bay Region in general and Saginaw community in particular lost a significant and creative educator, visionary community supporter, and expansively creative artistic force of nature with the untimely passing of Dennis Adomaitis on February 11th. Dennis served as an educator who impacted the lives of thousands of students. After attending Aquinas College, he held a teaching position at St. Stephen High School and later he joined the staff at Freeland High School, where he taught for 37 years with an unconventional style that inspired & touched the lives and vision of numerous young artists. With his soulmate & wife Melodye the duo created their vintage antique emporium, Adomaitis Antiques and spear-headed many significant community artistic endeavors such as the Westside Art Festival, the annual ‘Dickens Dinner’, and even developed the first winter ‘snow sculpting festival’ at Hoyt Park years before Frankenmuth cornered the market with their annual Zehnder’s Snowfest.
A co-founder of the '60s psychedelic rock staple Jefferson Airplane, Paul died at age 74 as a result of multiple organ failure and septic shock. He struggled with health problems for some time, having suffered a heart attack in March 2015. A vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Kantner helped create the "San Francisco sound" that so defined the counter-cultural movement with songs such as "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love." As a songwriter, he crafted the band's "Young Girl Sunday Blues" and "Today," among others.
April 21, 2016. The day after our 30th Annual Review Music Awards ceremony I was feeling pretty good and waking up with my first morning cup of coffee, and then the news hit to slap me in the face when my dear friend Melissa May texted to tell me the most revolutionary artist of the post-Beatle generation had stopped breathing. Prince Rogers Nelson was just 57 when he passed away, and I immediately flashed back to the powerful impact that Purple Rain carried upon my 26-year old mindset the first time I saw it. With that film and the music that defined it, Prince broke ground that hadn’t been touched since The Beatles exploded in A Hard Day’s Night. And he never stopped pushing boundaries. A pioneering musician of the Minneapolis sound, Prince combined soul, funk, rock, R&B, hip hop, disco, jazz, and many other styles into incredibly successful and groundbreaking material that pushed the parameters of popular song. During his career, he won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and seven Grammys. His flamboyant style and relentless talent defined the zeitgeist of a generation.
June 3, 2016: Another true revolutionary from the 1960s that broke more barriers than the Gemini spacecraft. Three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., Ali changed his name after converting to the Nation of Islam in his early 20s. Muhammad is widely considered one of the best boxers to have ever lived, but his larger-than-life presence, his poetic nature, and his strong convictions made him a legend outside of the ring as well. Ali fought tirelessly for equality for his people and spent his life attempting to be a role model. He was also a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. In his later years, he developed Parkinson's disease, which he ultimately succumbed to.
This iconic theater comic actor, screenwriter, film director, and author, passed away on August 29th. Although his first film role was portraying a hostage in the 1967 motion picture Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder's first major role was as Leopold Bloom in the 1968 film The Producers for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This was the first in a series of collaborations with writer/director Mel Brooks, including 1974's Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote, garnering the pair an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Wilder is known for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and for his four films with Richard Pryor: Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Another You (1991). Wilder directed and wrote several of his own films, including The Woman in Red (1984). His third wife was actress Gilda Radner, with whom he starred in three films, the last two of which he also directed. Her 1989 death from ovarian cancer led to his active involvement in promoting cancer awareness and treatment, helping found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in Los Angeles and co-founding Gilda's Club.
August 30, 2016. As the proprietor of Larry’s Lounge in downtown Saginaw, Coulouris cultivated a second-home for journalists, city workers, police officers, hockey players, and numerous movers & shakers throughout the community. He was elected to a seat on City Council in 2005 and also served as mayor pro tem. His engagement served as a template for what it means to be civic-minded and involved; and as former Mayor Greg Branch astutely noted: “Running a bar for more than four decades served him well as a government official. He had an almost unerring BS detector and he used it well. He could tell when somebody was full of it.”
Golf legend Arnold Palmer died of complications from heart problems on Sunday, September 25, 2016. He was 87 years old. Palmer, known equally for his charismatic personality and dedication to charity, was in large part responsible for golf's explosion of popularity in the 1960s. He played a traditionally very quiet, composed gentleman's game like a rock star, attracting a legion of dedicated fans known as Arnie's Army.
Apart from Ben Hogan, he was my Dad’s favorite golfer. Palmer won a total of 93 tournaments in his professional career, and his remembered for his aggressive style of play. He brought television to the sport of golf, forever changing it. His charity, also called Arnie's Army, invests in health and wellness initiatives for children, with the aim of strengthening communities.
October 20, 2016. Louise was an honored and admired teacher at Arthur Hill High School, the Center for the Arts and Sciences, South Middle School, and Heritage High School. She inspired a love of great literature and creative writing among countless students, present company included. At the age of 16 through her Modern American Literature class at Arthur Hill, I was exposed to such works as The Catcher in the Rye, The Sun Also Rises, The Painted Bird, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Brave New World; which changed my view about life and my outlook about the world around me. What more can one ask from an educator? Louise also deeply inspired my own interest in writing. Years later, she penned a food column for The Review, under the nom de plume of Lou Garth. Louise loved water and was an avid boater, kayaker, and sunset watcher. She was a fabulous cook and co-owned a catering business for many years with Susan Pumford.
News of Leonard Cohen's passing was confirmed by his label, Sony, on November 10th. He was 82. Born in Montreal, Cohen rose to prominence in the same wave that carried Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Neil Young, yet in many ways he possessed a darker introspection than all three combined. Cohen's somber music and lyrics, deep, sorrowful voice, and unexpected directional course made him perhaps more similar to Johnny Cash than any of those artists. His most beloved songs include "Suzanne," "I'm Your Man," and, of course, "Hallelujah," which was famously covered by Jeff Buckley. He released his final album, You Want It Darker, just weeks before his death.
Multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and well known collaborator to the stars Leon Russell passed away Sunday, November 13, 2016. He was 74 years old. As a songwriter, producer, and studio musician, Russell collaborated with the true mavericks of contemporary music: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Ronnettes, Phil Spector, Ike & Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton (his beautiful piano on Let It Rain is what grabbed my youthful attention at the age of 15. And then one year later I was fortunate to catch him with Joe Cocker on the Mad Dogs of Englishmen tour at Saginaw’s Daniel’s Den before the Woodstock movie broke, along with his own string of memorable hits such as Masquerade and A Song for You, which was covered by The Temptations & The Carpenters. Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
December 7, 2016. One of the most benevolent spirits one could ever engage with, keyboardist Brian Bennett lived and breathed the music that he harbored a life-long love affair with. With his high-school bandmates The Cherry Slush, Brian rode high in the exploding Michigan rock scene back in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the Slush were recognized as a Michigan Rock & Roll legend in 2013. For most of his adult, with only a few, short-lived exceptions, both his day job and his night gig were about music. He ran the keyboard department at Bay Music for many years before starting his own business, Midi-to-Go, with the late Dr. Charlie Brown. He was not only an exceptional keyboard player and an early pioneer in the effective use of synthesizer sound, he was also an effective mentor to those aspiring to learn. Brian was also a regular component to the Dick Wagner Group.