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Fear

by Steve Brandick

Julius Spilman didn't do much with his life. He got my sister pregnant, married her, got her pregnant a second time and then, less than a year later, split for the flowers of San Francisco leaving behind a little boy and little girl. That was in 1964. He didn't take care of my sister or his kids. He started a second family and didn't take care of them either. Then, a couple of years ago he killed himself. Shot himself in the head, once again leaving a mess for someone else to clean up. He was such a zero that his suicide did not traumatize my niece and nephew. They couldn’t have cared less one way or the other. But as little as I thought of old Jules, he once spoke a truth that has stuck in my mind. We were in my mom's house sometime in the mid-1970's. Mom liked to paint and had her paintings all over the walls of the house. From my perspective, some were pretty good, some not so good, but that wasn't the point. She enjoyed painting and Fear

Steve Brandick Š 2011

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enjoyed hanging her work on the walls and that was all I needed to know. Jules was an excellent artist even if he was a lousy person so his opinion on art carried some weight. We were standing in the living room. Jules looked around and proclaimed, "Your mom will never be a great painter." "Oh, really," I said, "why's that? "She is too afraid." True enough, Mom was full of fear. She was afraid of just about everything. Afraid of being broke. That was understandable. We had been broke a lot when I was a kid. Being broke wasn't really the problem. It was the insecurity that a lack a money created. Mom was afraid of being dependent on others. That also made her afraid of getting sick because a serious illness could leave her helpless, in the care of others. She didn't want to be under anyone's control. She passed away a long time ago exactly as she wanted it. She was coming back from visiting a friend, collapsed in the vestibule of her condominium building and died on the spot. She didn’t fall under anyone’s Fear

Steve Brandick © 2011

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care and had no time to be afraid. That was important because Mom was very afraid of death. She'd seen a lot of that in her lifetime. Two of her brothers, one sister and her father all died within a two year period when I was about eight. Considering her fear, she picked a weird place to live. Weinstein’s Funeral Home was just up Peterson Avenue from the house and the longer funeral processions would line up right across the street. This happened a few times every month sending a grim chill through the house. She was afraid of broken glass. If a glass fell on the floor and broke, she would not just sweep up the pieces. She would also wipe the floor down by hand with a wet cloth to be sure that every splinter was taken up. You couldn’t be too careful. She was afraid of eating bad food. She'd throw away cheese with the tiniest spot of mold on it. If she ate a bad peanut, she'd quickly eat a bunch of good ones. She thought that canceled out any danger. Fear

Steve Brandick © 2011

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Mom was afraid of real things like the traffic on California Avenue although she exaggerated the danger way beyond reality. If you looked both ways, you would be OK. She was also afraid of imaginary things. Very superstitious. Broken mirrors, spilled salt, picking up lucky pennies, all that stuff. An open umbrella in the house would freak her out. She once caught me counting the cars in one of those Weinstein’s funeral processions and told me to stop because if I continued, I'd be the next to die. She was a deep believer in luck, but of course, she was afraid that she would never have any good luck. She expected the worst so she saw no point in gambling. She would have loved the lottery, but she probably would never have played. She knew she would lose. She spent a good part of her life waiting for some wonderful event to happen that would change everything and put her where she wanted to be, but she knew it would never happen and it never did. Mom's fear was part of me ever since I can Fear

Steve Brandick Š 2011

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remember. When I was a child, I was afraid of the shadows traveling with the nighttime traffic on California Avenue and across my bedroom walls. They kept me up at night mesmerized by their weird fluid rhythm. In order to sleep, I’d pull the covers over my head and imagine that I was safe in a cave where no one could get to me. I was petrified of water. When I was about six, I was at a pool at a resort in Wisconsin when some big kids pulled me under. I never got back in and no one made me. My fear just grew and grew until it got to the point where water splashing on my face in the shower petrified me. I hated roller coasters. Chicago’s Riverview was the Magic Mountain of my childhood. It was a very cool, old school amusement park with barkers, a freak show and the best rides of that era. I never enjoyed myself there. No matter how much my sisters encouraged me to ride the world-famous roller coasters, I just couldn’t do it. One day, my sister Bobbi convinced me into riding the Fireball with her. It Fear

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was a kind of toboggan that went over 100 miles an hour straight down. At the time it was the craziest ride around and Bobbi loved it. I sat between her legs, as secure as could be, but I was frightened out of my wits. I got through it, but I can’t say it was fun. I never did it again. I was afraid of the dark and scared of ghosts. Ghosts lived in the basement of Mom's little house, but only when it was dark. I was sure that my dead grandfather's ghost was there. Sometimes at night Mom would send me down to bring up laundry. I'd pull the clothes out of the drier as quickly as I could and then run up the stairs so Grampa couldn't catch me. It made no sense. He was a sweet old man who would never have hurt me while he was alive so why would his ghost chase me? Who knows? Fear often makes no sense. When I left home, I spent a lot of my time trying to face my fears. I'd jump into situation after frightening situation. I’d make that first crucial step, when you cross the line from safety into Fear

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danger, and then I’d freeze. I just could not let go and let the danger envelop me. I would hold on for dear life. I didn’t experienced what was going on. I just got through it. It was always the same, just like the roller coaster at Riverview. There was the anticipation of the fright I knew I would feel. There was the slow entry into the experience like going up the first big rise and then I'd be clenched fisted and stiff backed until it was over. When it was over, I was happy I got through it, but it left me empty. I wished I could throw my hands up, let go and scream my way through it, but I just couldn’t. I raced through the US, Mexico, Europe, North Africa, hitchhiking in places where it was not safe, sleeping by the side of the road, all to prove some vague point about my courage and completely missing the point of traveling. Once I was up in the Colorado Rockies squatting with a bunch of hippies in an old miner’s cabin in the middle of the mountains. Someone had peyote buttons and we brewed them into a tea on the old Fear

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wooden stove for two days. Then me and a guy named Paul drank a cup each and headed up the mountain. Paul wanted to ski down a glazier on his feet, without skis, and I thought it was a great idea even though I had never skied in my life. We got to the top of the glazier, shared a tangerine, gave a big yell and jumped. The moment I hit the ice, I froze and somersaulted all the way down. I survived by dumb luck. When the glazier ran out I was on my back, feet first and slid onto pebbles at the bottom. I got away with a sore butt and some minor cuts. I went to see Bill Medley recently at the Canyon Club. He is the surviving member of the Righteous Brothers, a white duo that recorded some very popular soul tunes in the sixties. You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling is what they are most known for. Medley sang all the hits and told wonderful stories. He was right in the middle of the music of that era. He toured with the Beatles, was a personal friend of Elvis and here he was, fifty years later playing a medium-sized venue Fear

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and signing CDs at a table after the show. He has a great voice and he is a terrific entertainer. So what is the difference between him and Elvis or the Beatles? Part of it is star quality, charisma. But the biggest part is fear. All the great ones Elvis, Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen put it all on the line. They did not play it safe. They did not worry about offending people and in fact each did offend lots of people before they were accepted. For sure they felt fear at times, fear of failure, fear of not being loved by the crowd, stage fright, but that didn’t stop them or even stifle them. Bill Medley’s entire show was good, but very careful. He never took a vocal risk, never got outside of the basic conventions of pop music, never put his heart on his sleeve and let loose. All his patter was carefully crafted not to offend anyone. Safe, not great. I wondered if Jules was right about fear and art. And it begged the question: Was I too afraid to ever be a great artist? Fear

Steve Brandick © 2011

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At one point in my travels, I found myself in Bavaria living with a German woman. On one level I was a free young guy enjoying some time in Europe. But on a deeper level I was confronting the ultimate fear of a 20th Century Jew. Living within a culture that would have killed me if I had walked the streets just thirty years earlier. One day I went to visit Dachau figuring that it would be a long trip outside of Munich. I was surprised when I found that it was a short subway ride out of the city and even shorter walk from the subway station to the concentration camp. Right there next to one of Third Reich’s biggest cities. I felt like I was inside the beast. It was a kind of fear that I had never experienced before. It was fear of real danger even if that danger had passed decades before. From that point on, I would look into the eyes of the young Germans I had interacted with. They seemed normal enough, but they were the children of the people who put my people to death and would have surely put me to death if I had Fear

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been there. For the first time in my life, I understood the difference between fear of being alive and fear of dying. Fear of dying makes sense at times. There is real danger in the world from which a wise person can seek protection. There is no shelter from fear of being alive. That kind of fear eats away at a person and leaves them alive and dead at the same time. For a very long time, I had desperately wanted to experience life, but I was afraid of being alive. As a consequence, I missed a lot. One day, on a road trip up the beautiful California coast with my wife and two small kids, I realized that I had finally conquered my fear and had slowed down. I was looking out the window and yelled back to the kids, “Hey take a look at that view!” I didn’t want them to miss a thing. At that moment I knew that I could finally sit back and enjoy the world around me, enjoy my kids as they grew up, enjoy my wife and my friends, enjoy life without fear. The first step I took was to learn how to swim. I was forty years old. The next step was to Fear

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express all of my emotions from fear to ecstasy in my songs balancing the light and the dark to provide an enjoyable experience for my listeners. And create some very good art.

Fear

Steve Brandick Š 2011

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Fear  

by Steve Brandick page 1 Steve Brandick © 2011 Fear page 2 Steve Brandick © 2011 Fear page 3 Steve Brandick © 2011 Fear page 4 Steve Brandic...

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