Sunday, June 28, 2009

Willy DeVille

This one really has nothing to do with sports. Today, I learned that one of my favorite musicians has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. That breaks my heart.

I first heard of Willy DeVille from my best friend Jeff. After returning from an extended trip to California, "Muggs" as he later became known among my circle of friends, had been told about the band Mink DeVille by cousins in the Golden State. The band broke about the time that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit the airwaves.

Now these were the days before e-mail, cell-phones with unlimited minutes and "social networking". Word among 15-year-olds traveled the old-fashioned way, via postcard. Or, in this case, via conversations following Jeff's return home. (The postcard arrived late). Always interested in discovering new music, we engaged in the pursuit often.

Eventually, Jeff tracked down a collection of his music. Back in the day, our music was procured from exotic places called department stores (Zody's, Meijer, J.C. Penny's) and independent music shops like Beerman's Music and Believe in Music. Tunes arrived in the format of the 45 or the LP. For a 15-year-old living on allowance and lawn mowing jobs, birthday, report card and Christmas money, a single purchase could make quite the dent in the wallet.

With such limited resources, an investment in vinyl, combined with the basic design of the media, meant that you gave an artist a chance. LP's were listened to multiple times, from start to finish; 45's were flipped to check out the "B" side. A band that on first listen might not shine often emerged to become a favorite. Top Forty hits that were must-haves sometime faded from our play lists due to over-exposure on radio.

Long-standing favorites emerged from that era that still populate this Pesch household: Petty; Springsteen; Warren Zevon; Elvis Costello; Elton John; Aerosmith; Bowie; Alice Cooper; the Stones; Orbison; Pat Travers.

Jeff's cousin's recommendation of DeVille hit home, and I've followed him ever since. His simple tales of romance reminded me of one of my Dad's favorite bands, The Drifters. Today, those tales still thrill me (and maybe still taint my perception of reality).

(Speaking of The Drifters, I remember repeatedly playing the 45, "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing" written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich on my inheited RCA player sometime around the fourth grade - look for the single edit!).

Fortunately, the internet arrived, allowing me to track DeVille's output as he fell from favor. "Big in Europe" as the old saying goes, his latest release Pistola, had to be acquired via eBay and "imported" from a reseller Florida.

So I'm sadden to learn that my continuing quest for his music may soon be over.

Check him out.