Life Shortened

As I start to write this, the TV reminds me, that this is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor; and that there are still a few veterans alive from that day.

This is both a somber note, and a somewhat celebratory one to start the day. Horrible things can happen, and yet life can still go on. I was reminded of this over the weekend.

I woke up on Saturday morning to read on Facebook that Scott Alarik had passed away. Some of my readers will recognize the name immediately, but for those who don’t, a little background. Scott was a singer-songwriter who was also a columnist for the Boston Globe and write a book on folk music and wrote for a number of other columns. I first met Scott at Mother’s Wine Emporium so many years ago. He had performed his opus Fresh-Water Whaling, telling the little known history of the glory days of whaling on the Great Lakes. I must add that the history is so little known as to be non-existent. But, for those who do recall it, remember those little harpoons you sometimes find in drinks memorialize it. Or so it was said by Scott. As much as Scott liked to sing, I think he preferred more to talk and write. He was a living, walking history of the world of folk music. I still recall one night, after he had performed at a Mother’s Wine Emporium show at RPI where we discussed “what exactly is folk music?” We agreed it was “music of the folk” but beyond that we decided it had no easy definition. As I write this, I’m listening to the first video I found on YouTube and it is Scott at his best. Yes, there’s a song or two in there, but mostly it’s him telling stories. It’s as I remember Scott.

Scott Alarik at Mother’s in 2019

That news was hard enough, but to myself I said, “at least Bill is still with us.” I had read late last month that another singer-songwriter I knew, Bill Staines was fighting cancer and the battle was not going well. Alas though, on Sunday I woke up to more tragic news. Bill had journeyed to the next folk stage. Bill was another performer I had met through Mother’s Wine Emporium many years ago. I have several of his albums, at least one I believe signed. He was known for the prodigious miles he would put on his car, I believe at one point he said he averaged 100,000 miles a year, as he drove from performance to performance. Three of his albums reflect this: The First Million Miles, The First Million Miles, Vol 2, and The Second Million Miles. His best known song was perhaps River,(Take Me Along). I think his final journey though is longer than all his rest.

Finally, later on Sunday I also read of the death of fellow caver Mark Hodges. I can’t say I knew Mark very well. I want to say I caved with him at least once, but I honestly can’t remember. But I knew the impact he had on the cavers around him. He apparently suffered a heart attack while exiting a cave over the weekend. The tributes left to him from his friends and fellow cavers are touching and serve as a reminder, that one doesn’t need to write books, or travel 100,000 miles a year to have an impact on those around him.

I’m going to close with a memory of another friend and also former “Mother” at Mother’s Wine Emporium: Tom Duscheneau. Tom was a fixture at Mother’s for more years than I can remember, and many an attendee will recall him taking a seat at the front of the room, settling in as the music would wash over him, and closing his eyes. Yes, occasionally he’d need a nudge if had started snoring, but otherwise he would simply sit there, soaking in the music until the set ended. He passed in 2006, but I still recall him from time to time. I suspect if there’s a great beyond, he’s just pulled up a chair and sat down, preparing to take in a great concert as Scott and Bill decide to tell a few tall tales and perform a duet or two.

Mother’s Wine Emporium aka Mother’s Coffehouse – For those who don’t know what Mother’s was, it was a magical place at RPI, a place where one could retreat from the hustle-bustle of the busy world and sit back and listen to singers, raconteurs and more. It had moved at least once over the years (the above photo is the latest incarnation). For the longest time, it was the oldest, continuously student run coffeehouse in the nation. Scott liked to talk about how if you made it here, you knew you had probably gotten your ticket to the college coffehouse circuit. Those of us who had the honor of working here were known as “Mothers” and it is were my wife and I met. Due to a variety of circumstances, including the death of Tom Duscheneau, it had its last show sometime in 2007. In 2019, I worked with the RPI to bring back Scott Alarik for a performance, with a hope for future shows. Covid has unfortunately put a hold on that plan, but I do hope in the coming years to again sit back and soak in the music of some great performers.

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