Sunday, July 7, 2013

Requiem for a Rock Star: Steven Paul Perry 1956-2013

Last Sunday afternoon I had the bittersweet pleasure of attending the memorial service / musical celebration for Steven Paul Perry, the former guitarist of Luna, Berlin Airlift, and Rick Berlin The Movie (and later John Hiatt and other solo and band projects). I was more of a fan than a friend, but I had connected with Steven via Facebook recently and we'd had fun reminiscing about favorite songs and shows. I'd asked Steven if he'd ever consider playing with Rick again and he said sure, so when filmmaker Andy Szava-Kovats asked me to help put together a benefit for his film about the Rathskellar, I floated the idea to Rick. I didn't know that Steven had just lost his final battle with cancer. By way of replying, Rick invited me to the memorial service. I'm so glad he did.
I went in knowing mostly Steven the musician, the killer guitar player with the singing tone that had made "Hunger Strikes," "Rock and Roll Romance" and countless other tunes so vivid. I knew Steven the performer, who loved to grimace while he bent his strings higher, who stood at his microphone for his vocal turns like he owned the stage, who shook his long blonde rock star hair every chance he got. Why not?

But during the course of the afternoon, I got a glimpse of Steven the person, from the little boy holding his first guitar, to the high school whiz kid whose first band Wilderness rocked the prom, to the loving son, loyal friend, brother, and partner he was to those in his life. He had the courage to be open about his sexuality (even in his hometown of Concord, Mass.), and later his struggles with HIV and cancer. Steven's father spoke, and a childhood friend he'd reunited to play music with. Dave Rose, Steven's current acoustic duo mate, got up and played a couple of Steven's songs. Alizon Lissance brought us all to near-tears by playing along and singing harmony with an unreleased demo of Steven ad his guitar. It was especially poignant to hear his voice again, since Steven's last cancer was of the jaw, and he had lost the ability to speak. Rick Berlin sang "Rock and Roll Romance" (which had also been the soundtrack for a beautiful montage of photos of Steven's life), and Julie Wood of Rick Berlin The Movie told a story of having to tell an African-American girls' choir that it was white boy Steven singing the gospel lead. The service ended with friend and bandmate Johnny Ray singing the ballad "Blue Light on My Hand," which he'd written with Steven. In fact, Steven was so excited when he thought of a direction for the song that he flew to Florida (where Johnny was staying) so they could finish it.

I didn't want it to be over. I got the CD of Steven's last instrumental recordings, and find myself searching for Youtube clips (you can see Steven playing slide behind John Hiatt). I am so glad I got to reconnect with him, and tell him what his music meant, and still means, to me, how The Movie's version of "Why Can't I Change" remains one of the great songs to come out of Boston, and what a thrill it was when he and Rick came out to the Rat one night in 1982 to hear my band, and how proud we were to subsequently open a few Berlin Airlift shows. The best part was, we then got to hear them for free.

Thanks again, Steven. Looking forward to jamming with you on "Why Can't I Change" in the next world.

You can see photos and hear clips of Steven Paul Perry at