INTO MEMORY – Rich Paschall

In Memoriam 2018, Rich Paschall

Many people go into our memories as the years go by.  Some will linger there always.  Some will pass by for a fleeting moment, remembered and then forgotten, as the years put clouds in front of them. Some memories we will cherish always, some not at all.

This past year, as in those preceding it, awards shows and year-end retrospectives highlight those we have lost through their “In Memoriam.”  This phrase is from the Latin term meaning “into memory” so it is into our memories we commend those who have left but meant much to us in our lives.

These passings do not only bring sadness for those who are gone, but they also remind us that we are entering a later time in the autumns of our lives. For this thought, we also have sadness for ourselves, knowing winter is near.

I will offer ten names that meant a lot to me in the past.  There will be no numbers.  It is not a top ten in the usual sense.  I looked over some lists and picked ten that have been committed fondly into my memory.  You may add yours in the comments.

Stan Lee

On the short list, I also had Sen. John McCain, although I disagreed with him often.  There was Stan Lee for creating the comic universe of superheroes. Also listed was Stephen Hawking, who had a beautiful mind locked in a diseased and twisted body.  The prolific playwright Neil Simon brought us many great movies and plays. Also passing was the former lead of Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin, and the lead of the Irish pop group Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, who died too young (46).

Waving a fond goodbye but staying forever in my memory:

Jerry Van Dyke, 86.  The younger brother of Dick Van Dyke began his career by playing Rob Petrie’s younger brother in a few episodes of the Dick Van Dyke show.  He is most fondly remembered as an assistant in the long-running sitcom, Coach.

Nanette Fabray, 97. She began her career in vaudeville.  I remember her as someone who appeared frequently on the early variety shows of television and later as a frequent game show guest.  She fought to show the importance of closed captioning in media, as she had been losing her hearing for many years.  Here she performs in the musical “the Band Wagon:”

Tab Hunter, 86.  The actor, singer, and writer became a movie star in the 1950s and ’60s.  He was a teen heart-throb to many young girls and a few young guys too.  He had a number one hit with “Young Love,” although this 1957 performance on the Perry Como Show may not have been his best effort.  At least you will get to hear the girls scream:

Harry Anderson, 65.  The magician and comedian scored two successful comedy series on television.  The first was the long-running Night Court where he played the judge of a Manhattan court at night.  Next up was Dave’s World, loosely based on writings of Dave Barry.

Burt Reynolds, 82.  Although he had many iconic movie roles as well as highly regarded television series, I enjoyed him most in the sitcom Evening Shade. My memory recalls it as a thoughtful, well-written program with a top-notch ensemble cast.

John Mahoney, 77.  The veteran stage and movie actor will be best remembered as the dad on Frasier (and Niles) on the sitcom of the same name.  Locally, John was often seen on stage in Chicago in productions of the renowned Steppenwolf Theater.

Roy Clark, 85.  The country singer and musician played host on the variety show, Hee Haw. Think of Laugh-In populated with country “hicks.” Having many southern relatives, we were greatly amused by this show and watched regularly.

Bill Daily, 91.  Daily was born in Des Moines, Iowa but the family moved to Chicago.  He graduated from high school in my neighborhood (long before my time) and went to the famous Goodman Theater school here.  He scored two successful stints as a sidekick on television, one in I Dream of Jeannie and the other was the Bob Newhart Show.

Penny Marshall, 75.  Best known for playing Laverne on the Happy Days spin-off, Laverne & Shirley, Marshall went on the be a well-respected producer and director.  “Big” is a favorite film, the first one directed by a woman to gross more than 100 million dollars.

Aretha Franklin, 76.  The Queen of Soul earned a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T in her life.  The talented singer and musician excelled in many musical categories and earned her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The Chicago based musical Blues Brothers is a favorite with us and the following is one of the best numbers in the film.


Your Obituary, by Rich Paschall

Taken on ‎September‎ ‎03‎, ‎2012, Viewminder

“Karen Lewis was fearless.” It was the opening line of her obituary on the Chicago Sun-Times  website.  The Chicago Teachers Union President had endured treatment for brain cancer in 2015.  In October of 2017 she had suffered a stroke.  She had surgery for a malignant brain tumor.  Through it all she battled on, and was widely respected for her tenacity and survival.

It was no surprise that her death would highlight the courage of her struggles.  There was just one little problem with the story as was mentioned on Lewis’ Facebook page, “Contrary to an unfortunate slip, I am not dead.”

Yes, the 64-year-old labor leader and brain cancer survivor is alive and living in Chicago.

Did you ever wonder how a periodical could publish a lengthy story on a famous person’s life just moments after they die?  Obituaries for prominent people are usually written before their deaths.  They may be updated from time to time and only need minor edits when a famous person finally goes to the great beyond  (or wherever it is you think people go for an “after life”) .  When celebrities drop dead, it is no time to start researching the details of their lives.  Pre-written obituaries are a common practice.  Publishing them while the person is still alive is not.

Few get to learn of their own death while they are still alive.  Apparently Lewis took the error in good humor.  The obituary, which was online for a few hours, was taken down before Lewis or family members had seen it.  She did learn of the opening line, however.  Apparently believing the long time Chicago publication would have to say nice things of the dead, Lewis commented, “I think it’s a mitzvah…but I’m not sure it’s true.”

“James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness.  The report of my death was an exaggeration.”  – Mark Twain

While Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour in 1897, a London-based reporter was sent learn of the condition of Twain’s health.  If Twain was dead, the reporter, Frank Marshall White, should send back 1000 words to the New York Journal.  If alive, apparently 500 words would do.  Meanwhile, according to legend, one paper had indeed printed an obituary for Twain.  Was the great American humorist amused by this?

White wrote an article that appeared in the NY Journal in June of 1897.  In part he said:

“Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London …” 

Twain had sent back in writing what is now an often misquoted response.  Twain’s hand-written response is restated above.

What if your obituary appeared online?  What would it say?  Would it recount that you are “fearless?”  Would it see you as a great humorist?  Would it recount the highlights of your life?  Or would there be little to say?  Would anything written be supplied by relatives after your death?

If someone was charged with writing a thousand words about your life, and you could read them now, how would this influence you?  If the words were kind and encouraging, would this lead you to a better life?  Would you try to live up to the words someone was about to supply upon your death?  Would you try to have all the qualities relayed about you?  Would you try to build on that legacy?

What if the words were not at all flattering?  Would that inspire you to change your ways?  Would you have a Scrooge-like awakening and live a better life?  Would you be more kind?  More generous?  More loving?

We probably do not think much about our own obituaries.  Those who do not have much public standing in the community will not get much more than the standard newspaper notice that includes a list of relatives and the time of funeral services.  But what if you have a little bit of notoriety?  Do you care what is written as your legacy when you are gone?  What influence would there be on your life if you could read your obituary as it would be published today?

Even without online or social media notices, or publication in the local or national newspapers, we will all get an obituary, so to speak, in eulogies at funerals or memorial services.  If these do not exist for you (and why not?) then there are the comments of your family and friends when they gather to honor your memory.  If cousin Lewis is likely to sing your praises, having been a drinking buddy and travel companion, Aunt Bertha might just come along and upset the gladioli cart with her honest opinions of your character.

Your homework assignment before we convene here again next Sunday is to write your obituary.  Pick out the highlights and significant life events.  Write it all down. Is that really what someone would write in your obituary?  Seriously?  If it is not exactly what you want, dear Ebenezer, it may not be too late to change, as the report of your death has been grossly exaggerated.

“Reports of Mark Twain’s Quip about his death…” May 31, 2015
“Karen Lewis See Funny Side Of Her Erroneously Published Obituary,” January 8, 2018



For Whom We Grieve, by Rich Paschall

In our younger years I suppose it is common to develop heroes in sports and entertainment.  Most of them will be real people, some will be fictitious characters, but they will come to mean a lot in our lives.  We follow their careers.  We cheer them on in the theater and at the movies.  We listen to them on the radio, CDs or streaming apps on our mobile devices.  We watch them at concerts and on television.  We grow attached to our heroes as if they were personal friends or members of the family.  After all, many of them enrich our lives.  Of all these, I think our musical favorites affect us the most to us.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the soundtrack of our lives.”  Radio stations love to use it, especially oldies stations.  When they say they are playing our “soundtrack,” what do they mean?  Do our lives have a soundtrack?  I believe they do and they contain many heroes and icons.

From a young age up to the early 30s, I think we develop a “soundtrack.”  It is the music we listen to the most.  It is the records, CDs and digital downloads we buy.  How many of us bought an album in our late teens or early 20s and then listened to it many times in the decades that followed?  While some continue to embrace new artists throughout their lives, many cling to the stars of their youth.  For example, I saw Chicago the band in college in the 1970s and more times than I can count in the following years.  I saw Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys) in 2016.  I saw the Rolling Stones a few years ago in Chicago.  It is a joy to listen and reminisce.

Chicago in Chicago, August 2014
Chicago in Chicago, August 2014

When the artists who played the music we grew up listening to pass away, we are understandably sad.  If they pass away from old age or sickness, we not only grieve for them but for ourselves as well.  Their passing is a reminder of our own mortality.  We do, however, have their great music to help ease the pain of loss.

In 2016 it seems we lost some iconic figures who played on the soundtrack of my life.  Maybe they played on yours too.    It was a year that stunned many in the music industry.  My mother would have known Kay Starr (94) and Julius La Rosa (86), who performed until recent years.  Fans of folk music would mourn the loss of Glenn Yarbrough (Limeliters) at 86.  Country and Western fans lost a huge star in Merle Haggard (79).

Elton John lost a hero and musical favorite in Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell (74).  It was Russell who helped John to become a rock star, and John returned the favor in recent years by touring with Russell and recording an album with him (The Union).

Fans of the 1970s Grammy winning rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer saw the passing of both Keith Emerson (74) and Greg Lake (69).  ELP won the Grammy for Best New Artists in 1972 and Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1981.  The progressive rock group sold an estimated 48 million albums.

Of my favorites I will give an honorable mention to Rick Parfitt (68) of the British rock group Status Quo.  The biggest hit I can remember was “Pictures of Matchstick Men” from 1968.  I loved the “psychedelic sound.”  They had a few more hits over the years.  Parfitt is on the left at this 2014 festival performance, proving old guys rock:

One of the first singers I remember was Bobby Vee (73).  He was already a rock star when I became aware of Rock and Roll.  He had quite a string of hits in the 1960s and of course, appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark.

Glenn Frey (67), was a musician, songwriter, founding member of the Eagles and a lead singer on many of their hits, as well as an occasional actor on television and in films.  The Eagles Greatest Hits was the best-selling album in the US in the 20th Century and second all time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.   The track listing of the Eagles iconic album is the finest collection of rock and roll of the 1970s.

Prince Rogers Nelson, or just Prince to you and me, was another multifaceted artist.  He picked up 7 Grammys in his career as well as an Academy Award (Purple Rain).  With numerous hits to his credit, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. At the time of his death he was seeking professional help for constant pain.  He was only 57.  Prince performed Purple Rain live in a rain storm at the Super Bowl:

One of the most iconic rock stars of our era was David Bowie (69).  He was a constant innovator, often reinventing his musical style and his personal image at the same time.  Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In addition to his musical career, he appeared in many theatrical productions and films.

Perhaps the biggest shock in the Rock and Roll world was the sudden death of Grammy winning artist George Michael (53), reportedly of heart failure.  Michael burst on the music scene as one half of Wham!  Their good looks, high energy and lively tunes brought them huge success.  When Michael went on to a solo career, he tried to concentrate on more adult themes in his music.  Careless Whisper was one of those songs and a big hit: