Sunday, January 20, 2008
John Stewart, 1939-2008
The sad news from San Diego yesterday morning was that singer-songwriter John Stewart, formerly of the Kingston Trio in its glory years, died this morning following complications resulting from a stroke Thursday night. He was 68.
Stewart was an under-appreciated artist who penned some of the best folk-style songs of the last fifty years, as well as a small number of pop/rock classics, the most notable being Daydream Believer.
Following is a remembrance penned by Stewart's best friend, Detroit journalist Tom DeLisle.
"My friend John Stewart died this morning in San Diego, California ... in the
hospital he was born in on September 5th, 1939 ... 68 years ago.
John suffered a massive stroke or brain aneurysm early Friday morning in San
Diego. Doctors had determined that any difficult surgical remedies that might
have been employed to save his life-- even if successful -- would had left
John immobile and unable to speak. It wasn't generally known, but doctors had
told John in recent years that he had apparently experienced various minor
strokes, likely in his sleep.
In the early 1970s, Stewart wrote "Cooler Water, Higher Ground," one of his
many highly personalized songs, in which he sang "I was born in the heat of
September, and I died in the cool of the fall ... borning and dying we do all the
time, it don't mean much of nothing at all." But his passing will mean so
much, to so many, around the world.
John's all-time companion and wife Buffy, and his children -- Mikael, Jeremy,
Amy, and Luke -- were at his side when he passed peacefully around 7:30 a.m.
Pacific time. John never regained consciousness after collapsing in his hotel
room late Thursday/early Friday, and was not in pain during his time at
Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.
John Stewart leaves a compilation of musical excellence unparalleled in his
time. He recorded over 45 solo albums following his seven years in the
Kingston Trio, 1961-67. He worked all the way up to the time of his death, having
recently completed his latest as-yet untitled album. It is estimated that he
wrote more than 600 unique and highly personal songs, many of them constituting
a modern musical history of his beloved America.
He leaves behind a wide-ranging group of fans who have felt a passion for him
and his music that bordered on fanaticism. Chief among them are the
Bloodliners, a hard-core legion of supporters who communicated via computer everyday
in discussing John and his career.
It can now be said that John was told last summer, shortly before Trio
Fantasy Camp 8, that he was suffering from the initial stages of Alzheimer's
disease. That news was kept from the public in the hope that his condition would
stabilize and allow him to work in the following years until the disease took its
eventual toll. Indeed he had stabilized in the time since Camp, and was able
to bravely perform several concert shows and do the studio work on his new
If there is a blessing in his passing, it is that he will now be spared the
true ravages of that awful disease. He will not suffer the gradual personal
mental reductions caused by Alzheimer's, though he had already lost his ability
to drive, owing to California law. In fact, one of the new songs on the
upcoming album is "I Can't Drive Anymore," a typically honest and emotional
personal reaction to his situation.
Speaking personally, losing John creates a hole in my soul. I had agonized
for months over the Alzheimer's prognosis. But after talking with many of his
friends and family yesterday, I can see that -- facing a debilitating future
-- it was -- and this is so hard to say --the right time for him to go. This
is what he would have wanted, in light of what he ultimately faced.
Johnny always drew a crowd, and there was a gathering of friends at the
hospital in San Diego over the past two days. Starting with Nick Reynolds from
John's Trio days and his wife Leslie, John's entire family had been joined at his
bedside by longtime sidekick Dave "Dave" Batti, John Hoke, Chuck McDermott,
Greg Jorgenson, John's boyhood best friend George Yanok, who flew in from
Nashville upon hearing the news, and other family, friends, and acquaintances. A
kind of "Irish wake" was held throughout Friday and into early Saturday, with
the friends and old bandmates sharing many of the limitless John Stewart
No plans have been announced yet for any memorial observations. I'll let you
know as soon as Buffy decides.
I'm so sorry to have to write this, to have to tell you this. Outside my
closest family members, John was the brightest light of my life. This creates an
emptiness that can never be filled. If you are tempted to mourn to great
lengths today, as so many of us surely are, we have to remind ourselves of what a
gift he was for all of us. And how lucky we all were to have had the
opportunity to have shared in his amazing music and stage artistry. We might, each
of us, have missed him, you know. But--lucky for us--we didn't.
He hated moping around, and looked for the bright side, and laughter, in
everything. He wouldn't even allow me to be 'down' about having cancer. He even
berated me at one point about it. He had amazing drive, and a creative force
within him that was stunning in its intensity and breadth. And some day his
amazing personal songs will be discovered by a mass audience, and the world at
large, and he will receive the wide-ranging accolades he was denied in his
Trust me. Think about him today, listen to that incredible body of his work,
think about the electric personality we experienced in EVERY show he did ...
in the literally thousands and thousands of performances in which he gave us
everything he had, stretching from venues big and small, from coast to coast,
from 1957 to 2007. You will smile when you do; and eventually laugh when
recalling the magic of his art and personality. We will not see his like again,
but we have been so lucky to have shared him across the decades -- and found
each other through him, because of him. It does not feel like it, but we are
the lucky ones today. That will become evident in the time to come.
Because, like you ... I loved him too.