Reflections on a difficult relationship
When David had to deliver his first eulogy, he was forced to consider the realities of his relationship with a rock star in the making.
In 1989 Dave joined a band. He’d been playing guitar for a few years, and sent an ad to the local paper. There was a vibrant live music scene, and he was ready to take part. He expected nothing. Past efforts had proved fruitless, after all. But the very evening his ad appeared, the phone rang. Dave answered.
So ya wanna be in a band, do ya?
There followed a long conversation. The caller’s name was Luke. He was the singer in an established band, The Servants, and well-known on the scene. Enigmatic, good-looking, talented, Luke was a rock star in the making.
Although at first challenging, Luke’s tone mellowed as they shared their musical tastes and discussed various bands: The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, House of Love, The Stone Roses. They had a lot in common. So after just two phone calls, a couple of letters and a pub chat, and even though Luke hadn’t yet heard him play, Dave was invited to become a Servant himself. Dave would reflect later on the importance of this. The band was Luke’s baby, so this was quite the deal.
Luke came to love those bottles as much as his music
The following period changed Dave’s life. After years of searching and hanging around with not quite the right people, he’d finally found his tribe. And it would also lead to the meeting of his soul mate, the person with whom he would share his life.
But Dave and Luke had the classic singer/guitarist relationship. Slash & Axl. Liam and Noel. Pete & Carl. As much friction and fireworks as chords and creativity. Luke was a true artist – a tortured artist. For a while he even wore a shirt with the words sprayed across the back.
As his persona developed, Luke started taking bottles of Martini or Bailey’s on stage to swig from during performances. Whether this was for image, Dutch courage or both, no one could know. But Luke came to love those bottles as much as his music. And eventually they took over.
When a song needed a delicate touch, one of them would just have to say “brushes”, and the other would nod and smile
In later years, Luke would take two bottles of wine to band rehearsals starting at midday. Sometimes he’d turn up so drunk he couldn’t stand. Dave got mad at him, but Luke just looked forlorn and apologised. Sometimes he’d recognise the state he was in and send a text: “Not going to make it. I’ve had a few.”
The most frustrating thing was that when Luke wasn’t drinking, he and Dave could be on exactly the same page when making music. When a song needed a delicate touch, one of them would just have to say “brushes”, and the other would nod and smile.
no one could help Luke, because Luke didn’t want to be helped
As the years passed and Luke’s drinking increased, he’d ask Dave to tune his guitar for him before a gig. Dave would refuse and say Luke needed to take responsibility for his own gear. But even when Luke played an out-of-tune guitar, his talent and attitude shone through. How did he do that? Dave never did find out.
Luke continued to drink despite other people’s efforts. Dave and the others tried an intervention of sorts when they sacked him from the band. It wasn’t something they wanted to do. They recognised their singer’s magic. But things just couldn’t carry on as they were. Yet no one could help Luke, because Luke didn’t want to be helped. And so, in time, it all came to an end.
time mellows viewpoints as effectively as it heals wounds
Luke and Dave had no contact for years. But time mellows viewpoints as effectively as it heals wounds, and eventually they got in touch again, exchanging texts and emails about music and books. They talked about getting together, but as they tried to firm up their plans, Luke said wasn’t sure when he could make it: he’d been in and out of hospital, he said. Dave didn’t ask questions, but said he hoped it was nothing serious.
That was their last contact.
The next message came from a mutual friend: Luke was receiving palliative care.
This was a shock, and information was limited. Dave immediately thought about visiting Luke in hospital, but COVID restrictions made this impossible. He asked his wife how long palliative care might last. It varies, she said, depending on the circumstances. Dave determined to go and see Luke as soon as this was possible.
But a few hours later they received another message: Luke had died.
The person arranging the funeral asked if Dave would say a few words. He hesitated. Surely there was someone else? Someone more qualified? Yet even though Luke had touched so many people, it was Dave who was being asked to speak. Even after all they had been through, their disagreements and friction, Dave recognised that this was an honour.
As the pallbearers took the coffin from the hearse, Dave glanced around: so is this really happening, then? He half expected a grinning Luke to spring out from the bushes or burst from the coffin, waving both hands in the air and shouting Fooled you!.
But this didn’t happen. And no one was fooled.
Nobody wanted to hear the truth. And who says what the truth is anyway?
Instead, they followed the coffin inside and sat. The room was full. People had travelled from afar. People whose lives Luke had touched. Some music was played and some words were spoken. Some of the music was Luke’s, some of the words were Dave’s.
The eulogy Dave wrote was an exercise in less is more. Nobody wanted to hear the truth. And who says what the truth is anyway?
After he’d said his piece and more music began to play, Dave returned to his seat, and finally looked down at the Order of Service; he hadn’t looked at it before in case it made him emotional. He didn’t want to be emotional. This was Luke.
When he looked up the coffin had gone.
Luke leaves a legacy. Songs of love and death and broken hearts. He leaves some people estranged and others uncertain, a door to part of their own life now closed with his passing.
He put everything he thought and felt into his songs, so all you had to do was listen. Dave wonders whether he should have listened more. And if he had just tuned that guitar, maybe things would be different.
I’m a novelist and scriptwriter, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Click here to get the lowdown on updates, insight into projects, and a look behind the scenes on creative stuff. You can also follow TFW on Twitter, or like the Facebook page.