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A Friend's Death Brings ?a New Perspective On Shopworn Tunes

Kevin Close
Kevin Close
Photo courtesy of the Close family

[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]

Music isn't fashion; it's an impulse woven into our fabric.

Such platitudes are easily forgotten in the context of critical perspective. Listen to enough bands or rappers, and writing about them becomes a solipsistic waltz. Chords and haircuts enter and exit vogue. You become a junkie desperate for the quick hit or the future sound.

And then something actually meaningful occurs to remind you how insignificant this posturing seems.

A friend of mine died in an accident this Christmas. His name was Kevin Close. He was 31, raised in West L.A., and one of those people blessed with such a rare combination of gifts that any effusive string of adjectives falls short.

He was a talented enough multisport athlete that his untimely exit sent me to reread A.E. Housman's poem "To an Athlete Dying Young."

"The Keez" was hilarious enough to create the most vivid and absurd slanguage I've heard outside of Wu-Tang.

We'd drifted down separate paths over time but stayed in touch about sports. Every year, he'd wish me a happy birthday via inside joke from when we worked as college-age sports-camp counselors, quoting Heavy Weights, beating kids in Horse and laughing at overbearing lifeguard bosses and eccentric co-workers.

He also loved music. Not in the way of vampiric online cool hunters but in the way that normal people love music - absent a sense of what subgenre is trendy or who is #relevant. So it was fitting that, at his memorial, eulogies were interspersed with songs, both covers and originals from his closest friends, the beloved defunct local punk band 48 Mananas, who re-formed as We Are Lions and, later, Tijuana Tears.

When a backyard of 250 people collectively grieves, meanings can mutate. I've heard "Stand by Me" and "Let It Be" hundreds of times over the years. Last week, if you'd asked me about either, I would've rolled my eyes and begged off ever listening to them again. They were attached to schmaltzy moments and early memories that induce over-sentimentality. Cassette tapes, bar mitzvahs and Corey Feldman. Parental music passed down.

With those songs stripped down to acoustic renditions and buoyed by the chorus of mourners, however, one reabsorbs their full gravity. They doubled as a Kaddish and celebration of a great man; they were funereal hymns memorializing a bright light abruptly snuffed.

Clippers jerseys with "The Keez" scripted onto the back were attached to a basketball hoop. The wind blew lightly, the uniforms swayed, the band played, the crowd murmured sad, low vocals. As painful as it was, no one wanted the songs to end.

When things threatened to get too heavy, the musicians played a profane, jokey, faux-LFO song that Kevin wrote as a teenager (Keez also did an infamously excellent cover of The Backstreet Boys' "I Want it that Way"). The Clippers' No. 1 fan, known as Clipper Darrell, led the crowd in a chant for our deceased friend, the squad's second most die-hard supporter.

It was as surprising as it was moving, a reminder that sports and music may be the closest we get to communion in a fractured, self-obsessed city.

Of course, songs aren't supernatural. For all the release and beauty of the previous hours, the memorial eventually had to end. None of this made any sense, and it probably won't any time soon.

"Lean on Me" and "Let It Be" sound distinctly altered today, instilled with a different history, purpose and sense of sorrow. Until my last string snaps, every time I hear them, I will be reminded of a unique soul who departed too soon and deserves to always be remembered. 

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