musician named Coco Robicheaux died recently. He had a deep growl of a voice and a beautiful soul. During his life he lived in a lot of places, had three marriages, a daughter whom he was crazy about, recorded his music, and kicked a 35 year substance abuse habit. He also had a regular gig most Saturday nights for the past 12 years or so on New Orleans Frenchman Street at a place called the Apple Barrel, playing his guitar and singing blues that you could feel all the way down. He was unique and will be missed by many.
I tried to catch him whenever I was in
, but hadn’t seen him for awhile. Lately, on each of my visits I didn’t see his name on the local what’s-going-on-this-week calendar. I just figured I was unlucky enough to be there when he was either taking a break or playing an out of town gig. When my friend Margaret told me about his sudden death, I mourned for the loss of such an artist and kicked myself for not trying harder to catch up with him the last time I was in town. New Orleans
I wish I could honestly say that I knew him well, but I can’t. I was just a fan. But from his songs as well as everything I have ever heard about him, he was a deeply spiritual (as opposed to religious) man who said in one of his songs….
“Sometimes I walk
all by myself,
I don’t wanna talk to no one else.
I close my eyes
and I feel the spirit rise.
And it feels so good to me
I can tell I’m supposed to be.
And it move my soul
when the spirit takes control.
Sometimes I’m down
and it comes to me,
Lift me up,
get me feelin free.
It take me by my hand
till I finally understand.
And then I know how it feels to be
when my soul is in ecstasy
And I feel so strong
When the spirit carries me along.
I walk with the spirit by my side,
I talk to the spirit as my guide.
I see my light shining up above,
and I’m walkin with the spirit of love.” **
**Walking with the Spirit,
Coco Robicheau, 1993
Everything I know about poetry I learned in…… ok, I’ve never learned anything about it. But I love that song.
November 25, 2011 Coco walked into the Apple Barrel for the last time. He said hello to old friends, kissed one of his female friends, as well as the bartender Sara. He took his seat at the bar and ordered tequila. When Sara turned around to hand him the drink, Coco was slumped over. Friends laid him on the floor and tried to find a pulse. It was there briefly and then it wasn’t. He was 64 years old. If the universe ever gets anything right, then right now Coco is walking with the spirit; walking very gently on those golden splinters .
My point here really is about how you go out, and especially about last words. If you have to go, it could be worse than sitting in one of your favorite bars with friends, ordering tequila, and then….snap. Not bad, in fact most ways to go would be worse. According to one of the people who was there, his last words were “I’m home”. Or according to someone else, “The next round’s on me”. Both of those possibilities are eloquent and beautifully apt. Or, you could consider his songs his last words. I wonder if Coco would have come up with something else if he had the chance. (One thing is for certain- if Elvis had it to do over, I bet he would choose another way to go than the one he got. Pretty much any other way.)
It’s something to think about. How do I want to go? What would I want my last words to be? I’d like to say, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do” as Oscar Wilde was supposed to have said. Or even, “Get my swan costume ready” as ballerina Anna Pavlova was supposed to have said. I really hope it would be something like what Joan Crawford was supposed to have said, “Damn it, don’t you dare ask god to help me.” Or even better, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that’s the record”, supposed to have been said by Dylan Thomas. (Maybe I’ll try to say that even if I haven’t been drinking.)
At any rate, I’ve been trying to come up with something. I’ve sometimes joked that I want to die torn apart by wolves. Appropriate last words then would probably be…”Bon appetit!”. But would I have the presence of mind to think of that? And wouldn’t a fatal wolf attack be difficult to organize properly? Besides, I would really need someone to be around to hear my monologue. If you say your final words in the forest and no one hears them, are you still dead?
What if I have my last words all ready and then something happens to screw it up? Here’s a scenario too horrible to contemplate: I’m on my deathbed. Loved ones are gathered around, sobbing quietly, or maybe hysterically. I’m feeling pretty punk and I’m ready to go. I speak my final dignified and/or hilarious epitaph to the rapt audience. I close my eyes and drift gently into the arms of peaceful oblivion. Then, a few hours later I wake up from a restful sleep feeling much better. I live for another…., whatever – hours, days, months or years. My brilliant “last words” were a waste of breath. Now I have to start all over. It’s a problem.
I guess it’s best to be prepared with a variety of “last words”. You just never know when you will be speaking your last. If you really want to be ready you have to make sure you are always prepared. You need to have something worked out, or at least make sure that everything that comes out of your mouth is memorable. Who could manage that, besides Oscar Wilde? How many of us are that witty? None.
It’s sort of like the problem actors have. When they reach a certain age, they should start choosing their roles very carefully. Here you were, a respected actor with a string of awards under your belt, a resume of Shakespeare and Brecht and Mamet. But your last role was as the parent of some ex-SNL alum in their latest cinematic stinkbomb. Do you really want that in the first paragraph of your obit?
To be realistic about it, I guess I know what my last words probably will be. If I had to go by what I always say when I stub my toe, or drop something, or, well, pretty much anything , they will be, “FUUUUUUCK!!!” Not particularly dignified I admit, but it is pithy.
I'll keep working on it. And if I ever see
Coco in a scene from the HBO series, “Treme”: