Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fred Wilhelms

Fred Wilhelms, who passed away on April 24,  was a beloved member of this blog and the email group that produces it. Fred was a music lover, an attorney, a tireless advocate for artists' rights, a truth-teller, a wealth of  "you couldn't make that up" stories, and the kind of human being we all strive to be like. We miss him terribly.  Stewart Francke writes:

Fred Wilhelms was like the older brother I didn't have, or more accurately a mentor and a father figure--both Fred and my Dad were tall, elegant, Catholic Republicans who were deeply honest about what that meant, honest about themselves and very knowing and honest about this world.  As Dave Marsh just said to me, "I don't even think Fred lied to himself."  There was no tolerance of bullshit, and there was erudition and knowledge behind every opinion or word uttered.  

I know this kind of grief (as we all know this kind of grief), and I cannot stop crying.  I spent one of the great afternoons of my life going around Nashville with Fred 2 days before my mother died, and he explained how to accept her death by not addressing it directly.  He was so smart and articulate--he told me what an apple was by telling me what an orange wasn't.  He always had time, or I should say he made time for me--he was busy but never deferred a call or ignored an email overnight--there was a response that day.

I thought I knew a little bit about publishing (songs) until Fred told me a litany of stories about his various dealings with heavyweights from Barbara Orbison to Bettye LaVette and everyone and everything in between.

One of our last phone calls was Fred in an unusual panic--he was talking very loudly about various medical things and details of his case and the clinical trial etc, until it just broke down to his fear of dying.  I did my best to encourage and comfort.  So I told him that as long as we're all alive, and Teri and his family and all others that know him and love him are alive, he remains alive.  Sharing the same gracious but to-the-bone honesty that Dave has, he said what I thought he'd say: "Well, I don't know about that, but I get what you mean."  I felt privileged to even be having this discussion with him, that he trusted my experience enough to hash it out, no matter how poorly I sought solace for him.  Because he knew, and i know...what really can you say?

He once took me to a famous diner in Nashville for lunch, and we stayed for several hours.  It was the most unusual ice breaker--Fred sat down, ordered a water or something, and just delivered his life story almost from birth.  And it was funny, fascinating, political, familial, great story after great story--how he got to be sitting here, right now, with me.  I fuckin loved it; more precisely, I fell in love with his life, with his stories and how he told them.  It was like one of those Styron or Baldwin characters defining the world with their own biography, and I just had to sit and listen.

Fred & I corresponded a lot, about many things--never charging me for legal advice or publishing ideas, and I hoped and pleaded and prayed that he would somehow live through this ugly, heinous disgusting matter, through this horrible cancer that takes no prisoners, but it was as I knew it would be, only sooner.  They all hurt, don't they?  But this one aches, a deeper bruise to the soul, a loss that affects how you walk and talk.

I loved Fred not in passing, or just a little; I loved Fred with my heart.  He was somehow a 6'5" guy who always looked you in the eye, always on the level.

The picture above appeared in a newsletter for for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in February, 2012.  At the time, Fred wrote, "I chose the picture ... because getting to hold him was just about the best reason in the world for joining the trial.  I am not above playing the pathos card, and I am not ashamed to say so."