|Photo by Marc Gellar
Just before press time early Sunday, I received the very sad news that my friend and colleague Adam Block had died peacefully in his sleep at home in the company of his brother Keenan, after suffering a lengthy respiratory ailment and other complications due to AIDS. It feels strange to say it, those four big letters, but I remember about 23 years ago I eulogized a popular local performer when he succumbed to AIDS. I never got around to revealing the cause of his death because it just felt so extreme to say back then, and that performer wasnāt gay. I felt very conflicted about telling the world that he fell victim to the relatively new killer disease that was starting to decimate the gay community.
Adam Block, who wrote a column in the same paper that I did, The Sentinel, jumped all over me for not being truthful and skirting around the cause of this young manās death in my column, saying it was not responsible and effective reporting, and people needed to know the truth. It took me a while to fully realize just how right he was, and how important the truth is, and ultimately the chance I blew to properly educate readers that anyone could die from this disease, not just gays. That was Adam keeping me in check - something he did a fair amount of over the years regarding my writing. So if Adam had died from a massive drug overdose Iād say it. Many would think that would be a far more likely reason for his demise and far more glamorous. Truth is, he just lost his ability to breathe.
When we first met I was still a teenager, a line most everyone who knew Adam would likely hear themselves say. He met a lot of teens, basically, and this teen was one with a more than avid interest and enthusiasm for rock and roll, a topic that Adam wrote about regularly in the Advocate and some other publications like Village Voice and a few others. This fascinated me, because I grew up reading Cream magazine and Rolling Stone, and I practically idolized prominent rock writers like Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau. So it really amazed me when Adam invited me along to see Marrianne Faithful with his friends and rock scribes extraordinaire Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh one night. I especially liked it when I would get late night phone calls from Adam when he was on deadline, calling me up for some last minute fact checking regarding a show he knew I was at, or some background info on a band he was previewing that he knew I liked. This was brushing pretty close to rock critic territory, a world I had been fascinated by for years. I had actually moved to San Francisco mainly to see more rock music anyway, so this was just great. Adam and I also both came from the Pacific Northwest, so we had a few things in common.
Eventually the day came when I started writing a rock music column in the same paper as Adam, and we played off of each other in a fun way, sort of like feuding rock columnists, like Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons - dishing semi-snide attacks on each other, yet occasionally collaborating on a joint article and always consulting with each other on the phone. Or weād be at Adamās North Beach flat with our photographer Marc Geller, late night after the Stud bar closed, listening to new promo discs and talking and consuming various substances in typical and proud rock star style. It was mostly during these times that I learned so much about the ins and outs of rock music journalism - how to conduct an interview, how to kiss major label ass to get complimentary tickets and music, and about dealing with many of the often harsh realities of gay life in ā80s and ā90s.
Adam had many lessons for us all over the years, from understanding the importance of Bob Dylan, to pointing out which local bands were completely brilliant and why it was our job and responsibility to tell the world about them. He trumpeted the awe-inspiring talent of artists like Gary Floyd and his various bands - The Dicks, Sister Double Happiness, and Black Kali Ma. He also was an ardent supporter of one of the best bands to emerge from San Francisco ever, the mind-blowing chaotic and truly edgy Bomb.
Whenever I embraced a new band, Adam would often validate my choice as worthy, giving his seal of approval to numerous amazing and strange bands that moved me in dozens of strange, creepy and fucked up rockin ways. He confirmed and identified the passion that hooked me every time. He encouraged the passion that I always felt about rock music and continually pointed out that it was a great thing to feel just a bit over the top and zealous about rock and roll. Rock music was at its best everything I live for. Adam always supported my belief that it is that good.
With Adamās passing, itās certainly the end of an era - for me and many of his close friends. So many late night hours we all spent plotting our collective courses in fun, politics, rock and roll, and moving and shaking this scene we orbited around for so many years together. Those are times Iāll never forget - the things that shaped me as a writer and a person. There were certain things you could depend upon Adam for, certain attitudes you could rely on without fail. He never allowed me to give up on things when I felt I couldnāt go on. He always showed me a reason or a way to put my problems in perspective, to use my pain or trauma to my advantage or put it aside and buck up.
He reminded me frequently how lucky we all are, really. He constantly pointed out the things in my life and about me that set me apart from others - the things to be proud of - the parts of my life that I may have had no idea were enchanting and unique and colorful. He helped me see that my ordinary life was something to be proud of, something unique that not everyone, especially those I viewed as privileged, would ever experience. He remembered everything and brought things up when you had clearly forgotten, just to give you a boost or return some perspective. Itās all coming back to me and Iām feeling more and more devastated by this news. I knew he would not leave San Francisco for anywhere else, even his boyhood home. San Francisco was where it would end for Adam, his home.
One thing Adam once told me that Iāll never forget and often recall when writing feels difficult. It has been a useful point to reiterate again and again. I called him up once and said, āI have to write my fucking column and I just donāt have anything to write about or the time to do it.ā He responded with a bit of a chuckle, āDon you donāt have to write your column, you get to write your column. Do you realize what a privileged position you are in? So stop complaining and do it, you are lucky to have the chance to do so.ā
As always, Adam was very right.