Bruce Hampton in the COVID Age

Life is kind of like a race and everyone has a different finish line, an expiration date written into their genetic code, and unless you’re the suicidal type, it’s a secret that nobody knows. So, when Bruce the corporeal being reached his expiration date three years ago today, it was a shock, an emotional exit that most of us who were there have still not wrapped our minds and hearts around. We haven’t gotten over it. We may never get over it, or want to. This was Bruce’s last great performance. I want to remember every bit of it except for the end.

No more of that mad cackle, no more pinky handshakes, no more lunches, no more ‘Fixin to Die’ the way it oughta be played, because Bruce went and did it and it’s probably good that he’s not here, because he hated to see his children crying. And Bruce would also have hated this ridiculous pandemic and the sheltering in place. Bruce was not a shelter-in-place kind of guy.

But he was a brilliant person, and he would have seen the wisdom in the practice, and self-preservation would undoubtedly rule the day. Bruce may have died exactly how he wanted (on stage), but I don’t believe for a minute that he had a death wish. Right now, he’d probably be suffering with the rest of us – at a distance, sheltering in place and hating it because he loved hanging with his friends. Bruce preferred the hang more than the gig, anyway, and he probably would have missed that more than performing. He was a guy who had lunch dates every day of the week, and trivia or poker or something else going on at night.

He was a shy extrovert who preferred the company of others, outside of his home. But he would not have wanted to risk infecting anyone else, or catching the virus. And I wonder what it would have been like to see Col. Bruce Hampton — a singular performing artist, unlike anyone else we have ever seen — navigating digital performance, playing music in front of an iPhone and broadcasting it on social media. He might have hated it, because there wasn’t the audience reaction that live performing artists need as an integral part of their performance.

It would have taken some help from others, because Bruce was a leader but he was not a technician (having singlehandedly dismantled stages with a single move). He would have needed a collaborator to make live digital performance in the age of COVID-19 a reality. Basically, he always needed collaboration. He surrounded himself with the best musicians you’ve ever seen or heard for a reason, man. Didn’t you enjoy it? Didn’t he? Isn’t it best to collaborate with the best? More fun for everyone? It sure was for him, and I’m not complaining. I got to see his bands, some of them anyway.

So, yeah, Bruce would have needed a collaborator to get him online and into our living rooms, if he’d chosen to go that route. I like to imagine that he would. That some of his more influential friends (usually it was Bruce influencing others, though) would have shown him and helped him and we’d be sitting in our living rooms, or dancing on our hardwood or carpeted floors, while Bruce cackled or played his guitar or sang along with pre-recorded music, or whatever.

I only know that I would tune in to watch and laugh. I only know that I wish he was here for me to find out exactly how it would all go down.

If he was here, I’d apologize to him for not finishing the book before he died. The conversation has gone something like this, because I have talked with Bruce since May 1, 2017.

Me: “Hey, Bruce, dammit. I’m sorry the book about you wasn’t finished before you up and died. And what the hell was that about?”

Bruce (rolling his fists around each other three times, raising them to the sky): “Zambi!”

Of course, that explained and absolved everything and put it all into perspective. Life is always too short, so get over it and live. Anyway, the book is done. The publisher likes it. We’re working on edits now. Look for it in printed form from University of Georgia Press next spring (keeping my fingers crossed that book publishing and healthy, interested readers will still be a thing). It’s all about Bruce.

I know that for the rest of my life, on April 30th and May 1st , I will be thinking about Bruce. I know his ghost is around me, but is especially powerful on these days. And no matter where I am, if there is consciousness or semi-consciousness, the Zambi spirit will be near. That’s called having faith.

One thought on “Bruce Hampton in the COVID Age

  1. So glad to hear an update on the book. Glad it all “collapsed into place.” Congratulations. Peace and Zambi.

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