Rockvale TN, July 1, 2011 – Mike Wilcox was one a them curly-headed white boys that when it was the fashion grew his hair out into a perfect Afro. Later, as we both got to be old men, along with every body else who'd made it that far he wore it shorter. I've trimmed my mane down, too.
He was playing guitar mostly with Randy Prentice back then, we all were Beaux Arts Boys, strugglin with the muse while all around us electric cats were coppin' from Clapton and Beck and Page....somehow a stubborn folkie pride kept us from going there. Whatever a folkie is. I still wonder.
Then he got a National or something and started playing slide. Danny Kalais taught him to project his voice by pushing on his gut while he was holding a note. Informed him about the diaphragm that way. And he was off. Singin Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John and of course, Robert. He was hittin' it big, tearin it up, killin the crowds, and makin' them women swoon. And then we kinda lost track of each other.
Time...things happened, or didn't, and he became a carpenter, a builder. Had a wife, had a child, got divorced. His life was sad and lonely. Drank too much, okay, some say he became a drunk. Lived the blues. Paid the dues. But kept his humanity. Hating yourself is one of the most human things you can do. This went on for twenty years or so. And then a few years back, he remembered those old tunes and those old feelings again and he picked it back up. He wasn't getting out much but he was workin on it.
A couple of years ago, probably a little longer, my friend Ol Folkie Jim, who was booking me at the time, picked him up and got him a couple of gigs, I think. He came over to my gig at Ringside and helped me pull that off, relievin my singer's songwriter schtick by helpin me throw in some Caravan with a Drum Solo(that is, playin sure-fire crowd-pleasers). He was beginning, I think, to be happy.
A little later, a little closer to now, he had a seizure or something, drove his car off the road and crashed. Blacked out I guess. But he swore to me when we were last talkin, that he hadn't been drunk.
I think he lost his license. Lived in Gulfport, where you can walk to everything, maybe rode a bike once in a while. Then they told him he had cancer. Of the liver, with adrenals involved, too. Well, he had been a drinker, but usually you hear cirrhosis.
I kinda got brought up to date on him while doing my November Florida Tourette, played at the Peninsula Inn, boy there's a story, talked to Flame about him, only I don't think the cancer was part of the picture yet.
So by April, I've only booked three solid gigs, but I go down there anyway. At this point I think I'd heard from Flame about the cancer. It doesn't matter when I heard about it, I went down there, and a lot of my reason was to visit Mike. Play guitar, chew the fat, do whatever he wants to do and have some fun. I mean, everybody does it, but dyin' is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted to do my part, if I could, to make his passing if not pleasant then gentler. And I said to myself, if he says Piss Off, then I'll do that, too.
I visited him a couple of weeks before he died. There in Gulfport. Took him some stuff to nutrify his body while he was on his way out the door. Some fruit/vegetable juice. All Day Energy Greens. Stuff like that.
We talked, about music a little but players who hold each other's respect seldom talk much about music when they're together unless they're actually playing a song at the time. Be like two welders talkin about flux or somethin sittin in a bar. So what we talked about was women. No specific women we had known, just the general subject of women. Or at least we were both gentlemen enough to not mention names.
He said he hadn't had sex lately. Hadn't desired it, either. Said all he'd ever really enjoyed was makin 'em squeal anyway, and he'd done that. Said he didn't want any women around, not that he didn't like them, he just didn't want them around. I think he probably meant he didn't want women to see him as this curiosity, this guy who was dying. I don't know. I may be conflating or projecting or something else psychological here.
I was in St Pete for a week, so I only got to see him twice. I didn't visit him more often because well because if I were dyin I'm the last person I'd want to spend a lotta my final days with.
I think he had become serene about it by this time, that's surely what he presented to me. He'd always been gentle, and though I didn't know him during his drinking years, I heard stories, and he seemed to have somehow returned to that sweet nature that he'd had as a man just a couple of years out of being a child.
He said he was going to record his songs for his daughter, so she'd have them when he was gone. He told me he was set up to do that. I hope he did.
I was thinkin about him for a few days runnin a couple of weeks ago, I think it was. And I get this call from Flame. And Flame said Mike's dead. I saw the coroner's van over there this morning.
You get to know a lot of dead people when you get to be as old as me, even though I ain't all that old and don't ever expect to be, but you know what I mean. Then you start to get into the nature of consciousness et cetera and is part of our consciousness our memories, and then you get to dwelling on that tribe in Africa that says there are three levels of death. And the last level of death, when what they really mean is presence on the scene, the last level is when there is no trace left of you on the face of the earth. Nobody to remember you, no posters of you or books you wrote or were mentioned in, when all those things and artifacts and people are gone, then you're finally dead, as in not on the scene any more a-tall. Whenever even the notice of your death cannot be found, nor does anyone want to find it, when there is no longer any trace, you are out of here. It takes a really really long long time to really really die.
Elvis and Mike Wilcox continue to leave the building.