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Notes to "Bob Welch and Avenue M"

By Lewis Shiner

Bob Welch committed suicide on June 7, 2012—two days ago, as I write this. No one will ever know what was in his head when he did it (or in his heart, for that was where he shot himself), but certainly a contributing factor was his health. According to news reports, he'd had spinal surgery and feared being unable to take care of himself.

I have been an obsessive fan of his music since I first heard Fleetwood Mac's "Hypnotized" on FM radio in Dallas in 1973. His French Kiss album is on my top five albums of all time, and was the model for the album Sunsets by the fictional character Eddie Yates in my Deserted Cities of the Heart. French Kiss seems to hold the essence of summer inside it, in "those long afternoons" on "Carolene," in the way "summer had us hypnotized" in "Dancin' Eyes," in the shimmering heat coming off the distorted guitar in "Outskirts."

When I found out that he was coming to a rock club called Sneakers in Austin in March of 1990, I convinced the Austin Chronicle to let me do an interview and review of the show. I spent an hour or so with Bob, the band, and his wife Wendy before the show and liked him—all of them, really—enormously. The Chronicle sat on the story for a few weeks and then rejected it because it was old news, so I corresponded with Wendy and Bob as we figured somewhere else to place it. I had given Bob a copy of Deserted Cities, which he read and sent me a complimentary note about.

Avenue M, despite my predictions in the story, never got a record contract, though the Rhino Best of Bob Welch CD features one track from the band. Bob and Wendy moved to Nashville, where Bob became part of the singer/songwriter scene there, though I have to say I can't imagine him, with his Southern California glitz, ever having been completely at home there.

Today, as I read Wikipedia and the various obituaries, Bob's story seems sad and bitter: the withering away of sales after French Kiss, the failure of Avenue M, lawsuits for missing royalties, the insult delivered by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in omitting him from the honors for Fleetwood Mac, his eventual suicide. But this doesn't sound like the guy I met in Austin, who loved books and wild ideas, who was so open to different styles and directions in music, who was so full of positive energy and the love of learning and new things.

As I read back over the trasnscript of our interview, one paragraph jumped out at me. He'd been talking about some politician who'd said "drugs are the single worst problem America faces":

I beg to differ. Drugs are not the worst problem America faces. America faces the fact that it's going to become a third world country if it doesn't kick itself in the ass pretty soon. America has a horrible child death rate, way behind some foreign countries, we have a huge homeless problem, we have an enormous social security/old people/medical insurance problem which is going to leave most of our generation on the street with horrible diseases at age 80.

Sadly, he proved to be as good at predicting the future as he was at everything else.

The Bob Welch I knew was a brilliant, sensitive, compassionate songwriter, singer, and guitar player who left behind some good work, some great work, and some enduring masterpieces that stand with anything produced in rock and roll. But he has also left me behind, and it hurts.


© 2012 by Lewis Shiner. First published in Fiction Liberation Front, June 2012. Some rights reserved.

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