It’s irrational but the death of blues guitar legend, Johnny Winter, has left me feeling profoundly and inexplicably saddened.
In order for you to understand this, let me rewind to the chapter of my life when my mother was still alive.
If you’d had the pleasure of meeting my mother in her middle age, you would have been charmed, comforted and swept up in her gentle laughter that sounded like sugar being sifted onto a confection. You would have been stunned by her reluctant beauty and enamored of her soft, green eyes.
I knew her as the suburban housewife with a green thumb. I knew her as the cheery co-pilot to my Father as he sacrificed the comfort of his family while he dragged us all over the country, to pursue his grand adventures. I knew her as the best friend that I had to say goodbye to when I was 19.
I was seventeen when she was diagnosed with Cancer. Her two year death sentence was incomprehensible but I, being the busy body that I am, made it my mission to discover who my mother really was.
It started with a series of questions that were attached to a memory of her listening to Johnny Winter records. I knew that my Father considered them to be contraband but I never understood why.
Little by little, over the course of two years, my mother let her guard down and opened up about the past that she was so ashamed of. Drugs had been involved. Very hard drugs had been involved and in the midst of that, she’d seen Johnny Winter in concert when given the chance.
She’d connected her past mistakes with this particular musician but to me, her past mistakes just made her human. I’m so grateful that I was given the gift of seeing my mother beyond the confines of a suburban housewife. Parents are all too eager to shroud their mistakes but I think that is a disservice to their children.
There was once an albino guitarist who spoke to my mother’s heart. He sang the blues as often as she felt them. She wore brown suede moccasin boots with fringe. She probably even had a cocktail as she swayed her head to the music. I can count on my hand (minus the pinkie) how many cocktails I ever saw her consume.
Seeing Johnny Winter perform was on my bucket list. I imagined that seeing him play would somehow intersect my adulthood with my mother’s young adulthood. I convinced myself that I would feel her presence once again, if only I could see him perform, the way she once had.
This missed opportunity and the reality of his death has reopened this goddamned wound that is supposed to heal with time.
In a strange way, I suppose his death has brought healing. It’s prompted me to write about her, which is something I’ve been avoiding. My book is 90% finished but finishing it requires my writing about losing her.
Pressing on through the heartache is tough. Maybe that’s why we all need a little Blues in our life.
Here’s to you Mama and Johnny.