One of the first assignments you get in Journalism 101 is the obituary. I suppose everyone knows that obituaries for the famous and notable are held on file, ready to be published upon the news of the subject’s passing.
In the few years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve thought several times about writing this one. I knew the day would come and I knew I’d want to offer a genuine goodbye. I didn’t attend the official farewell. I knew my goodbye would have to be done my own way and that would probably mean it would be written.
I’d sit down to write, turn on the music, think about some stories and about how maudlin he would find it to be, look at my favorite picture of him, think about sunflowers, and decide to go out and enjoy the heck out of life the way he did.
I thought about him earlier this week — we all did — when I walked into a music venue and the musician played one of his songs, one (of many) that had particular significance for me. Before the song, he said, “This is for my friend, who I miss,” and I thought I’d missed the very sad announcement we all have expected for years.
I was afraid to ask, but no one said anything afterward, so I decided he meant that he missed him the way we all miss him, only moreso because of their deep friendship. The tall, lanky goofball in the porkpie hat and the silver lame jacket. Kid Folk.
Thinking back it was that night that my stomach started to turn and I had that “hit the wall” feeling that I couldn’t get past all week.
Sunflowers have been on my mind all week, too. They’ve come into my consciousness in no fewer than four seemingly unconnected ways. One of my “hippie-ish” ways is to believe that everything is connected. I kept wondering what it was, because it’s not sunflower season. The fifth came this morning when I decided to play my iPod for the first time in months, hit shuffle, and an Alice Peacock song played: “Sunflower.” Something was up.
If you don’t know him by name, then you don’t know the beautiful, zany, supersmart, kind-hearted, amazingly talented spirit that was Eric Lowen. But you probably are familiar with one of his many fine professional accomplishments. Together with his equally superlative partner Dan Navarro, Eric wrote Pat Benatar’s 1984 hit song “We Belong.”
If you don’t know his name, then you probably never witnessed that song with its Spanish verse and chorus, performed by its creators, unplugged, strolling through a crowded room, complete with silly improvisations and add-ons from the evening’s accompanying musicians. I saw it done with a cello once. I’m trying to remember how they did that. I don’t think the cellist strolled, but with Eric and Dan, anything could have happened.
Lowen and Navarro, Eric and Dan, were based in Los Angeles, but perhaps their largest following was here in the DC area, where a DJ named Neci played their song “Walking on a Wire” and it became a local hit. As Eric and Dan said on many occasions, thank you Neci.
Eight years and one week ago, Eric Lowen was diagnosed with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). His own words in a 2006 article in “Performing Songwriter” naturally tell his story better than I could repeat here. He married his fiancee and they blended their families and he continued to be Eric for a very long time. At first he sat to perform instead of standing and bouncing around the stage. (I will never forget seeing him change a guitar string while continuing to play an amazing riff one night. He didn’t even break a sweat and he laughed and sang the whole time.)
Then he used his electric wheelchair. I never went on one of their famous fan cruises, but I heard stories of wheelchair races. I believe the stories and I still laugh at a memory I was not even part of.
When he couldn’t play the guitar anymore, others filled in. And then he couldn’t sing. In occasional updates, Dan, now touring solo, would report that “Eric is still Eric.” When he could only speak, and Dan was giving Eric a hard time, Eric told Dan to guess which finger he was holding up. In a later update, when he had lost speech, he was using the computer to communicate and could contribute to the daily family business with such things as ordering the family groceries online.
A couple of years ago, a cd came out with some names you might know covering some of Eric and Dan’s songs, to celebrate their music and to raise awareness of ALS in conjunction with the ALS Association of Greater Los Angeles, Augie’s Quest, and the Eric Lowen Trust. Contributors include this guy named Severin Browne and his brother Jackson and another fella named Keb’ Mo’. They helped to keep the light alive.
I never got around to writing that post . . . until about an hour ago when a friend called with the news because she knew I’d be out of the Facebook loop.
I didn’t get the sunflower connection (which I’ll keep to myself) until I was mid-way through writing that third paragraph.
My stomach didn’t stop hurting until just now, when the post I’ve known for years I would write is now written and it is time to say goodbye in my own way to a beautiful soul whose music and life have touched so many people in such a meaningful way.
And now you know his name. Eric Lowen. In addition to being one of the writers of the megahit “We Belong,” he was a husband, father, friend, substitute teacher, musician, goofball, light in the world who struck a chord in many a heart. Not necessarily in that order.
Like most Lowen and Navarro fans, I couldn’t even begin to pick a favorite song or even a favorite album, though there are personal favorites that will go with personal memories forever. This is Eric’s final performance of “If I Was the Rain,” kind of fitting since it’s been raining all day today. . . . maybe he was the rain.