Sunflowers on a rainy day.

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 more so 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.

sunflowers

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.

Unplugged at its best. — Outpost in the Burbs.

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.

Eric Lowen (sitting) Dan Navarro, Jackson Browne, The Bangles, Freebo & Mike Gormley.
Credit: Markus Cuff Photography

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.

A scan of an old photocopy of a pre-digital photo. Still my favorite picture of Eric Lowen.

A scan of an old photocopy of a pre-digital photo. Still my favorite picture of Eric Lowen.

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.

27 thoughts on “Sunflowers on a rainy day.

  1. Oh my goodness, HC. I immediately came to your post, because you mentioned Sunflowers, which are my favorite flower. As I read, I realized – this wasn’t a post about sunflowers, this was a post about Eric Lowen, and yes – I do know Eric Lowen.

    First, the scanned picture… is that you with Eric? Excellent picture.

    Okay, I cannot tell you how many times I saw Eric and Dan perform. They came to Eddie’s Attic several times. Truth be told, I didn’t know they wrote “We Belong”, because I was introduced to them through other songs. (Seven Bridges Home) But yes, I saw Dan and Eric perform We Belong several times – singing the song in English and Spanish. (Always brought me to tears.)

    I did not know Eric had ALS. I am in shock – both that he was sick and now that he is gone. To this day, I access Eddie’s Attic concert list looking to see when Lowen and Navarro will be playing again… what a sad, sad, sad day.

    While performing one night, I asked the guys to play Seven Bridges. They started the song, but Dan forgot the lyrics. I told him I had them – and they brought me on stage and used the lyrics from the CD. Later, he signed the insert, writing that I saved his butt. It was hilarious. I also have one of Eric’s guitar strings.

    Wow. My heart goes out to you, his friends and family. This is a huge loss. Your obituary is beautiful. You did a wonderful job.

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    • Ah, Dan Navarro, the “Boilermaker” years. (There’s another name for that drink, but it’s understandably controversial.)

      Anyway.

      Sounds like a typical LowNav show — so much fun, weren’t they?

      Eddie’s Attic, Bluebird Cafe, Club Passim, and Tin Angel are on my bucket list. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to get to them. Just as soon as someone unchains me from my desk!

      Seven Bridges is a beautiful song that’s a sentimental favorite of a lot of folks. It’s interesting that you found them through that one. For all the fun and hijinks, there’s so much depth to many of the lyrics. Who writes the Portuguese Love Sonnets into a song (“Do With Me What You Will”)? Eric Lowen.

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  2. The first thing that came to mind was – Donna would have known Eric. No question.

    I didn’t know his name, but I’ve known some of his music, including “Walking on a Wire”. I first found it because of a fascination with Philippe Petit, I’m thinking now of Petit’s famous statement – “If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. If I see a wire, I have to walk.”

    It sounds very much to me as though Eric’s version of that was, “If I see a day, I have to live.” And he did. And so will we.

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    • They likely would have known each other. First, I doubt anyone was ever in a room with Eric for more than 30 seconds without him knowing them. He was that guy.

      Also, from the beautiful piece you’ve written about your friend, it seems that Donna had the heart and soul of a teacher, as did Eric. He once told me that if the music thing hadn’t worked out, he’d have been a teacher.

      We were all lucky that his music thing worked out, but he would also have been a superstar teacher.

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    • Wow…thank you for sharing that, Margie. It’s a long and difficult goodbye that I know must have been exponentially more difficult for you. I’m sorry fot that loss.

      In his Performing Songwriter’s article, Eric quoted a friend who said that we’re all on a journey and that he had a clearer road map. He seemed to take that to heart and took his family,friends, and fans along with him.

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      • The diagnosis of an illness like this – the knowledge that life will be shorter rather than longer – helps some people to unburden their lives of the unnecessary. It gives them a clarity of purpose that they might not have had before.

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    • The universe works. :-) I’m glad you landed here, too. Thanks muchly.

      I’ve just finished a blog marathon and am doing the mental equivalent of carb re-loading, so I don’t know that I’ll get to (re) writing it today, but I recently found a picture of my father as his alter-ego, NotElvis. A couple of times I have written the post and then taken it down because it’s rather personal, about “NotElvis,” which he developed as a comical response to those who mocked his wearing of sunglasses indoors.

      What most didn’t realize was that he was wearing them not to imitate Elvis but because they protected his eyes and covered the physical effects of an industrial explosion that left him blind.

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  3. Hey, you used to write superb, but the last couple of posts have been kinda boring¡K I miss your super writings. Past couple of posts are just a bit out of track! come on! 311107

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    • This may very well be the most delayed comment reply I’ve ever written. I just re-blogged this post and found it. Thanks for your kind comment, which by now I’m sure you don’t even remember writing. I’m sorry about that.

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  4. Hippier – saw your post on the six songs plus a bonus and sauntered or clicked (sauntered sounds better) over to your re-blog of Sunflowers. Nice post, I’ve been in a reflective mood of late and I read. It is amazing how people can leave their fingerprints on us – rather innocently. What a wonderful tribute.

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