My big brother Charles died last night. He was just 61, but an interval of drug abuse in New York in the seventies took its toll on his formidable mind while Hepatitis C ravaged his body. Charles graduated from Mercersburg Academy and Sarah Lawrence College. He also studied at Dartmouth College and Columbia University, a paper short of his Masters. I will forever think of Charles as a college student; and as he cared little for gainful employment, Charles always lived like a college student. It was what he did best. Charles was never without a book, and always the sort of book that only scholars read. When it wasn’t a book, it was music. No one loved music more. In a stint as a record producer for Lust/Unlust Music, Charles was elated when his punk single was named “Best New Record Below 14th Street.”
Though he loved several women, Charles never married or had a family. He wasn’t grown up enough for that. His was a life of the mind, so losing his mind was losing everything. Still, when Charles had his headphones on, when he had his music, he had everything he wanted, and he was sublimely happy. How many of us accomplish that?
When someone we love dies, we cry for them, or we try to; but we mostly cry for ourselves, for all the unresolved, unspoken, unfinished pieces of our lives that bumped up against theirs. We cry for all we can never make right or share with them again. A piece of us dies, too; a piece that no one else mourns. I’m crying for my big brother, a little ashamed that I’m crying for me, regretting that things couldn’t have been different, that I didn’t do more.
A sibling is a rival for our parents’ attention, affection and pride. They are the embodiment of who we are and who we will never measure up to. They are the light and the shadow that define us, to ourselves and in the eyes of family and friends and teachers in those crucial, crucible years when we are becoming who we will become. I am who I am because my brother Charles gently guided me on my way at a time when he was my hero. I never told him that. If I had, he would have brushed it off in his self-deprecating way.
I am flooded with memories of his kindness. It was Charles who showed me how to modulate a flashlight beam and use it to carry sound. That was a pretty big deal back in the mid-1960s. I was 8, making him 14. He understood the magic, the power, of technology, and he put it in my little hands. He shared the spark as Prometheus shared fire. We were both going to be great scientists in those days of astronauts and Heathkits; although in truth, he wanted to be the great scientist, and I just wanted to be like him.
We don’t always know how much we change the trajectory of other lives. I don’t expect that Charles knew how much he meant to me or how much he influenced me. I’ll never be able to tell him. I hope it’s enough that I know.
I lost the brother I loved most and needed most a long, long time ago. The grotesque man child that took his place seemed not to miss the young genius he’d been. He had other regrets that consumed him. But that awkward, brainy, talented, modest and sweet young fellow set the standard for me. He was the big brother I wanted to make proud. He was once poised to be anything and do anything.
In the end, most would conclude he didn’t amount to much.
But I can’t feel that way because I am his legacy. He challenged me and believed in me. Even as he failed in most everyone’s eyes, there was always in him an intellect I knew I’d never equal. I never minded that because Charles never used his intellect to diminish anyone. He didn’t need to be the smartest person in the room, even when he had no equal. I wish you could have known that big brother, and I wish I could have had him all my life. I suppose its enough that I had him for a little while, a long, long time ago.
Rest in peace, big brother. I love you.
I’m sorry for your loss, Craig. You wrote a beautiful tribute. The legacy your brother left lives on in you.
Ed Fiducia said:
Craig – Praying for you and family in your time of loss. While true that “a piece of us dies with them”…. I pray that you will continue to take comfort in the fact that “a piece of them lives on through us”. If you are, as you wrote, “his legacy”, then he must have been a brilliant light. God Bless – Ed
Sorry for your loss Craig. May his soul rest in peace.
Lael Andara said:
As we hustle and bustle around like mice in a maze, very little of what we do will reamin a hundred years from now. Our only legacy is our family and friends who we share our values and humanity with, and in some small way continues beyond our years. Success if often mismeasured, as this tribute brings to light. Few of us will have the privilege of such a honest and impactful epithath. When I step back and look at the big picture my family and friends always come into focus. Craig, thanks for the context…
Your beautiful words will hit a chord with anyone who has lost a beloved family member, and I cried as I read them. My deepest sympathy to you and your parents. May the love you have for Charles and each other sustain you through this difficult time.
Shae Thurman said:
You are a good brother. My prayers go out to you and your family!
Sorry for your loss Craig. That was a beautiful tribute.
Craig, my sympathies to you and family. You remind all siblings of their eternal bond with each other, which time and circumstances should not be allowed to diminish.
Nina Canal said:
This is a beautiful tribute Craig, I had heard of his passing as
I briefly worked w Charles in NYC, I was (and am still) in a band called Ut.
In 1980 we recorded a single for Lust/Unlust and it was all finished but it never came out because Charles suddenly left town without warning.
So we must have been the last or one of the last bands he recorded…?
my condolences and best wishes to you,
Nina, Jacqui and A Sally of Ut
Nina Canal said:
Craig, I forgot to say that the single I mention
will be coming out with some other reissues we are working on in early 2013, on Reactor !
Prettyboy Saverece said:
Craig…Be assured such touching words would make any brother proud…Charlie smiles down upon you forever.
Michael Fluhr said:
Just saw this. So sorry to hear about your loss Craig.
Rick Stieghorst said:
With your usual insightful, outside the box vision, you have penned a wonderful tribute. Thank you for sharing it, as well as this small piece of your brother and what he meant. Peace to you and all yours.
Al Wint said:
I am coming to this post very late…almost 2 years after Charles’ passing. I met him in the late 80s working at a Mom and Pop High End Audio Store in White Plains, He was a salesman there and I was taken with his friendly demeanor and his passion for Audio and Music. Eventually we we worked together at the same store and later on he shared an apt. for a couple of years when things were a bit tougher for him. I’ll always remember being introduced to the NY downtown music scene and meeting Joey Ramone and other icons who Charles knew well and our discussions of Art, Music and many subjects where his insight and knowledge were second to none…even when we disagreed aesthetically. Towards the end personal issues saw us parting ways and ironically we both ended up living in Florida, he on the West Coast and myself in the South. We spoke periodically on the phone but eventually lost touch a year or so before his passing. I never knew what had happened to him until just this week. The sense of finality and loss of a good friend is acute and knowing how much time had past before this discovery. I hope he knew how much he impacted the lives of friends and colleagues even when his own life saw many ups and downs. Thanks for those great memories of NYC in the 90s Charles and may your Spirit find rest and new vistas Beyond.