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bruce michael paine

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It starts with the Bethesda Episcopal Church Choir in Saratoga Springs, New York. He gets his first guitar at eleven. By thirteen he’s playing the Cafe Lena, where he used to watch Dylan and Baez.

He runs away the next year, to play the basket houses in Greenwich Village. Sometimes they let him sleep on the stage.

A man offers to manage him, offers him the spare room in the apartment, and promptly locks him out—without his spare clothes and his only guitar—when he refuses to share the man’s bed. His mother has to come to town with her new boyfriend, a friend of the mob, to get his stuff back.

He finishes high school in Illinois, serves a stint in the Navy, gets back to the Village and signs with RCA as a folk singer, then Atlantic in a rock band—they jam with Jimi Hendrix, he shoots speed with his guitar player, they open for the Allman Brothers, Cream—he has to hang the manager of the Cafe Au Go-Go out of a three-story window by his ankles to get paid for that one. But they take too much LSD when  Tom Dowd produces their next album, things fall apart…

So he starts singing with Ben Vereen and Philip Michael Thomas, with their long hair and fringed leather jackets; and he tours with The Supremes and Sly Stone, plays with Syd Barrett, plays Simon the Zealot in Jesus Christ Superstar.

And that was before—before he drove a cab in Los Angeles, sold coke over the counter at the mob bar in Hollywood; that was before he smoked a quarter-ounce of freebase a night and drank a fifth of Southern Comfort to take the edge off; that’s when my brother came around, my mother threatened to leave, and he started standing up at those meetings.

His best friend tells me he was a good friend, a good man—he always showed up, he always came through.

His brother tells me he was always larger than life.

But I remember that at five, I hid when he got angry; at twelve, when he threatened to break my arm if he caught me getting high; in middle school, when I began to steal because we had no money; in high school, when I stayed out of the house for days at a time to avoid seeing him.

When I hated him and, lying in bed with no understanding and no escape from pain, wished him dead.

“I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” he wrote.

“I’m dying slowly”

“and dragging the family down,”

“I just can’t it take anymore.”

“I feel like I’m dying all the time.”

“I have to end it,” he wrote.

“I love you.”