Living on the edge has its consequences. Rock singer Rusty Day of Cactus' coke-fueled existence resulted in a violent demise. A fascination with guns defined Chicago guitarist Terry Kath, and former Grand Funk Railroad manager Terry Knight, who once said he was, "Not afraid to wear the black hat on occasion," died doing just that.
The stories are even more fascinating when they involve your own acquaintances. The murder of Al Filan, a teacher of mine during high school, at the hands of a prostitute was shocking. During the day, Filan assumed a mild-mannered, middle-aged persona. After work, the happy-go-lucky guy was quick to flash cash for casual sex, with a temper that led to an outcome far more stereotypical of celebrity deaths, where mystery and intrigue, often involving sexual escapades, cloud the facts.
Filan was the only teacher I ever encountered who encouraged me to make money. Others would sarcastically loan me books written in Ebonics early on and then, later, outright discourage me from attending college. But Filan fairly judged students according to character and talent. After becoming a musician, I befriended Gena Penney, another rare person who offered me considerable support as the booking agent at Los Angeles' Whisky a Go-Go.
While other agents were either turning away customers at the door by telling them I was not booked on the nights I was actually on the premises getting ready to perform, levying passive-aggressive "punishments" by taking time away from sets for not setting up in under two minutes, or absolutely trashing me behind my back with me being informed about it by third parties, she treated me like a human being, and cared about the music I created.
Then came the reports from Vegas: Penney, found dead in a hotel room filled with white powder. A boyfriend, fleeing back to LA in her car. It was amazing to learn that such a sweet person lived such a scandalous life more suitable for many of the musicians she booked, including Tracii Michaelz, drummer for the LA glam-rock band Peppermint Creeps.
I met Michaelz when he was working at Fortress, a studio best known as the location where Kiss recorded an album. Both of us were regular sights in the building, back then, and we engaged in many conversations about music. The uber-friendly Michaelz I remember from that time was not the same Michaelz I encountered a few years later, as his alcohol-ravaged condition had deteriorated to the point where he was basically homeless, down-and-out on an enabler's couch while storing his drums in a room so tiny that it was impossible to set them up.
At a local shop, he and a small group of hangers-on randomly invited me back to their apartment for drinks, to which I obliged. Big mistake. Michaelz did not have enough money for a rehearsal space, but did have ample amounts of time to heavily imbibe copious amounts of liquor, and to drift in and out of consciousness. From out of left field, though, came an unexpected litany of N-word degradations, F-bombs, and constant taunts directed toward me from him and others in the group. It clearly was the only reason they invited me over, but in an odd twist of fate, I left the party, mentioned it to my then-partner, and promptly learned these were her close friends.
Michaelz died from alcohol poisoning soon thereafter, and within weeks, I ran into another one of the guys at a different Hollywood party, who then started profusely apologizing for the ordeal - an unexpected change of heart that could not mask the question of whether or not he had already profited from the sale of Tracii's drums and other belongings.