Innocence Lost

Early Grade School

I grew up on a street called Magee Street. It was a picturesque neighborhood of classic 50’s and 60’s lifestyle. All the dads kissed their wives goodbye in the morning and went off to work. All the wives stayed home and got the kids ready for school and then settled into housework and running errands. Most of the kids went to Lawndale school which was a public school and all of the Catholic kids went off to Presentation in nearby Lawncrest.

I remember being in the car with my dad one day and a kid named Mark Simpson was being pulled around in a wagon by his sister Linda. Only thing was, he had a cast on his leg.

“I always see that kid running out in the street all the time.”

“Well he’s not running now.”

“He got hit by a car. That’s why his leg is broken. He better watch out or he’ll get killed one day.”

I listened to my father’s words and watched in silence as Linda pulled her little brother down the street until they vanished from sight.

We lived in a time of basic rules. Say Thank you. Respect your elders. Stay off of other people’s property. Look both ways before you cross the street.

We also lived in a time of no bicycle helmets. No one wore seat belts. (Some cars didn’t even have them.) No sunscreen. No organized sports for everybody. Children ran free to go anywhere unsupervised. Just be home in time for dinner. I played by the railroad tracks. We’d ride our bikes miles from our homes. We had no cell phones. We developed keen senses of direction and distance. Everyday we thought of new ways to have fun by putting ourselves in some sort of isolated danger.

But we were fine. Young people live by the “I” words. They don’t know it, but they do. Immune. Indestructible. Impotent. When you’re young you think you’ll live forever.

Grade School

I think I was in 4th Grade when I became a Safety.  You wear a little white belt like the kid in the picture above. You also get a nice shiny silver badge to pin on it. (My sharpest memory of being a Safety was when I was doing poorly in school and my father said he should rip that belt off me and beat me with it. Fucking piece of shit thing to say to a child. But he was a rage machine back then.

Your job is to stand on your designated corner and put your arms out and block the little kids from crossing the street until it’s safe. I don’t even know how I became a Safety. Maybe someone just elects you. Maybe they didn’t have enough kids who wanted the job. But each morning and afternoon, you’d go to your assigned corner and protect the little kids.

I remember one time I was holding a soft pretzel in my hand and I put my hands out to stop the little kids. As I was waiting for the traffic to clear one little kid on my right took a bite out of the pretzel in my hand in front of his face. Too cute!

Mark Simpson and I worked the same corners. We weren’t really friends, but he lived up the street from me. I think my sister Janice maybe sometimes hung out with Linda, but I’m not sure. I think Mark may have been a grade behind me. On cold mornings his mother would whip up a few thermoses of hot chocolate for the Safetys. We’d finish up getting all of the kids to school and then all head into an office in the school and sip hot cocoa together. A little warm repose and reward for keeping the little ones safe on their way to and from school.

Fels Junior High

I was in 8th grade. I remember walking down the hallway early one morning. The school was oddly quiet. My friend Jimmy Hunsinger comes around the corner and says the following words:

“Did you hear? Mark Simpson was coming home from chess club, and ran out in the street around a bus and got hit by a car.”

“Oh my God. Is he okay?”

“He’s dead.”

‘What?”

I just stood there frozen. My face, a grimace of mute protest.

You cannot process that kind of information when you’re a 12-year-old boy. Your friends can’t die. Kids don’t die. There must be some kind of mistake. What kind of horrible lie is this?

But it was true. He ran out in the street around a stopped bus, and a car coming by the bus on the left side took him out. Apparently the trauma to his head was so forceful that he was hemorrhaging from his brain and he died on the way to the hospital.

Word quickly spread throughout the school and the neighborhood.

I remember my friend Michael and I went to his funeral service. (Closed casket) Everyone was dressed up in suits and ties and girls were in their Sunday best. This kid named Paul Berger was standing to my left in the pew, and he was playing with the zipper on his jacket because he was obviously bored. I told him to knock it off and be still out of respect to our fallen comrade.

After the service the family came to us and thanked us for coming. I just remember Mark’s sister’s face was almost unrecognizable to me because of how scrunched up it was from crying nonstop. Her face soaked with tears as she hugged us both. We here alive and had been through a few scrapes of our own but nothing compared to this nightmare.

Later we went to the Simpson’s home to pay our respects. This is some grown up shit here. Death puts everything into perspective. Especially when a child dies.

What Michael and I found odd was that nobody really looked broken or sad there. It was like a forced family reunion over grim circumstances. Everybody was eating and drinking. Mrs. Simpson asked us if we wanted to go up to Mark’s room. I had never been in Mark’s room let alone this house before. Like I said, we didn’t really hang out together.

He had a typical young boy’s room. It was neat and clean with all sort of boy memorabilia about the room. It felt weird to be looking at his stuff and touch his things. I picked up a little model car he had made. I thought they should give all of this stuff away to other kids because Mark will never come home again.

But of course I didn’t say anything about it.

As darkness fell over the neighborhood in those days, the clouds soon clear and people go on with their lives. Kids playing and going to school and just normal everyday events happen. Life goes on. The world continues to turn and some of us are not in it anymore. Some day that day will come for me and everyone I know. But we all hope it comes in old age and asleep in our beds when death comes to scatter our days. Not as a child.

I suppose the biggest ironies of this story are: My dad’s black prophecy about Mark getting hit and killed by a car. Him being a Safety and protecting other little kids from getting hit my cars, and then darting out into the street and taken by that very thing.

 

 

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The Phoenix – Part 3

Tell My Mother, tell My Father, I’ve done the best I can.

I stood at the grave of my parents with my sisters and my daughter.

Yes. I have something to say.

I read the Eulogy I had written.

I knew my sister Janice thought I wouldn’t deliver based on my track record.

 

Hello all. Thank you for coming.

To quote an artist I love: “Your bodies may be gone but we’re going to carry you in. In our minds, and in our hearts, and our souls. And maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll all meet again.”

Over the last few weeks our hearts and minds have been filled with visions of you both.

Although your vessels are gone, you are both so much alive in us all. In our thoughts, our words and our deeds. You’ve achieved immortality in your children… and their children.

And we all have the wonderful children to prove it.

Just like all of the home movies we still have. We can watch them anytime we want. I watched some the other night. You were both so alive that I could almost touch you both.

But only almost. And I won’t be able to anymore.

I want you both to know that every time we did anything, we saw you both in front of us. Your appreciation and love accompanied us every step down the road, and our lives were always shaped by your teachings and values.

Others greater than I will eulogize you both, but none of them will ever have the sweet pleasure that my sisters and I have had to feel the gentle touch of your hands in ours.

To merit your words and warm embrace that was reserved… only for us.

To see your smiles and hear your laughter, told us so much.

But those are no longer. Only in our memories.

There is so much to say about this wonderful family that has come to Earth through both of you. We will share our stories as long as we all can draw breath.

I once asked you both, “What was the key to a happy life?”

Mother you said, “Do everything in moderation. Moderation is the key to a happy life.”

I turned to my father and said, “Dad?”

He replied, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”

Well, we always went big, and our family is rich in history… and most of all… love.

Anyway, rather than go into every wonderful Christmas we ever had, or the summers at the shore, or how my mother was the greatest person I ever met, or how my Dad taught me how to ride a bicycle, or drive a car, or taught me how to read, or taught me how to catch a fish, or how to talk to girls, or art, or music or everything that is essential to living in this world and being a better person, and moving us all forward as a family.

You’ve both done all of that and so much more.

More than any words can ever describe.

Thank you.

 

I’m not done yet…

My sisters and I are left with no alternative.

Janice. April. Gabrielle.

And my only daughter… Lorelei.

We will say goodbye to you, Mother and Father. And we will ask that you rest in peace.

I know you will think about us all down here and miss us.

We will always love you both so very much, and we will never, ever forget you.

You both are all of us.

And we are you.

 

I will leave you all with this:

“Life is fleeting and fragile. Enjoy yourself.”

Thank you.

 

That’s it. That’s the eulogy I wrote for my parents.

I read that at their burial.

I always felt like I failed them both my entire life. But I always loved them.

 

 

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The Phoenix – Part 2

The only person that could keep him here with us was him and he’d already purchased a ticket on the last train to nowhere.

My sister Janice called me and told me that dad was in really bad shape and that this could be the end. I called my friend Rob and asked if I could use his truck to go visit my dad at the hospital.  He was fine with it. I was going to run down there on Tuesday to see what was up.

 

I was at work when I got the call from my middle sister that Monday.

“Hey Chaz. It’s April. Dad died.”

I was carrying some proposals and some client files and they fell from my hands to the floor.

I stepped into my editor’s office and of course my horrible sales manager was in there bugging the shit our of her for some inane reason.

I told them what had happened and they said: “Go home”

I knew that wasn’t option for me. I knew my sisters had everything well under control. There was nothing I could do now. I knew for months this call was coming. He had checked out a long time ago, and there was no coming back to us or anyone else.

I worked out the day, and kept in touch with my sisters. I had to keep working and I had to tell my daughter Lorelei.

I couldn’t stay home and do nothing. There was nothing to do.

I spoke with my daughter about it and she was a little sad but she just knew her grandparents as really old people that she saw once a year at the holidays like I did growing up.

My sisters took care of everything. They were in Jersey and were close to it. I knew this day was coming. It wasn’t a matter of if… but when.

On the phone with dad in his final days I would get him talking about something fun and would tell him I knew his life was still in there. That he wasn’t finished.

But he was. The only person that could keep him here with us was him and he’d already purchased a ticket on the last train to nowhere.

Janice planned the funeral and picked the day they would put my parents into the ground. My mom could finally get off the dining room table and into the Earth.

I was at the office the Sunday night I was to drive down to Cold Springs, Cape May where they were to be buried next to my grandmother and grandfather.

At that moment I remember my father once saying he wished he would fall off the jetty down at 2nd street where he used to go fishing.

“I fall in and the fish have at me to get back at me for eating so many of them.”

It made me think back to when he taught me how to catch a fish. Fond memories from a dark time in my young life.

I was there working on a proposal when I got a text from my bank. Apparently someone had gotten a hold of my debit card information and had withdrawn $800 from my account over the weekend.

Talk about insult to injury. I called my bank and cancelled the card. I then packed up and went to my friend Robert and Laura’s house up in Fairmount. They weren’t home so I was standing outside for a while. They finally came home and I told them everything. Rob handed me the keys to his truck and they paid their respects. I took the truck and put it in a parking garage near my house.

The next morning I dressed in black and went straight to my bank the moment they opened.

I told the girl at the desk what had happened and that I had to bury my parents and didn’t have time to dawdle and she produced the proper affidavits and I signed them. She was so amazing.

I later wrote a letter to her manager praising her outstanding performance.

It was a tough drive to the shore. Because whenever you go to the shore it’s always happy.

It was February, but surprisingly it was a warm and mild day. Almost eerily warm.

I pull up and park.

There are many people gathered by the gravesite. I approach and there is the sad outpouring of grief and quiet sadness of loss.

The missing.

I see my co-worker Rocco came and it relieves me to see someone from the office there. I think he just wanted the day off but I’m grateful he came.

My friend Jim who I used to be in a band with that I’ve known since he was 14 was there.

Everybody was there.

I walk up to the site and join my sisters.

The sun is shining on a very dark and dismal day to dissipate our sadness.

I remember telling my ex-girlfriend Michelle many years before that I wanted to speak at my parent’s funerals. It was what I could bring to the family with my words. That’s really all I had left.

The priest begins and does his thing. I scan the crowd. I’m in bad shape. I feel unsteady so just like at my wedding I remember to put one foot forward to steady myself.

This is a bad day.

As I write this I’m listening to the band Steppenwolf for comfort. They were the first band I ever really fell in love with. My mom disapproved but later liked them when I got into a wilder band called Aerosmith. But that’s a different post. (A way happier one!)

I remember my mom always like Scottish bagpipes. I never understood that but her people were Scotch Irish and maybe that music was in her blood. She comes from a musical family and I believe that runs through me and Lorelei to this day.

The bagpipes were sad and beautiful as they played in the background.

Perfect.

Because my father served in the military they did the whole folding of the flag thing. That was very moving and respectful. I like how they handed the flag to Janice and not me, his only son. But what have I really been to him, Not much really. A disappointment for the most part.

But all is forgiven.

I know my sister Janice was worried about me saying that I would make a speech at our parents funeral because I wouldn’t follow through. I get it. Track record. I once was supposed to transfer all of the home movies from VHS onto DVD and never did it. My baby sister ended up doing it.

Another fail on my part about nonsense.

I’m sorry. I was busy surviving in Jersey City trying to hold it together in New York at the time. But I do love that there was fear that I would come up empty-handed in the final reel.

Janice read and it was good.

Really good. I’m sure there was so much else she felt and had been through with this that it was hard for her to express what she really felt, and you know what? Whatever that was, it’s probably not for this audience or this venue.

I was surprised when my middle sister April read. It was good to hear her words and interesting to see it from her perspective and what her experience was through all of this. I don’t think my baby sister read, because she was in bed for most of our family memories. (Kidding! Gabrielle you get the joke!)

It was my turn now. I looked at all of the friends and family that had gathered upon this sad but inevitable occasion.

I looked at the table before me. On it was the little wooden box with the pretty bird on it. That was mom in there.

Next to that was a Lionel toy train standard gauge train station. I remember my father telling me he wanted to be cremated and his ashes placed into that toy train station.

After he had passed, Janice was taking the station down from one of the train cabinets and found a note under it.

It said “Gang, It’s been a great ride, but it’s time for me to pull into the station for my final stop.” Dad

He loved his trains. Now it was time for him to rest at the station and be done with the life he had created for all of us kids.

The Priest turned to me.

“Would you like to say something, Charles?”

 

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The Phoenix – Part 1

When I started writing this blog it was a bunch of crazy dates and series about past relationships. But I knew it would grow and evolve. Now that the dust has settled in my life I can get to the business of writing about what I really want to express. My life. (Don’t worry there will always be crazy dating stories!)

Last year my sisters and I buried our parents.

My mother had died the year before at 86. She was a wonderful woman who was a good wife and mother. She lived with RA (Rhematoid arthritis) for 40 years but never complained and put up with my father for 60 plus years.

She was in assisted living for the last year of her life. She was happy there and said she was never going home. She was with her peers and I know she was comfortable there in her final days.

She always said she wanted to go in her sleep. I think everybody wants that. Just go to bed one night and then just disappear peacefully and quietly. No fear. No pain. Just gone.

The day breaks tomorrow and the world does what it does and you’re just not in it anymore.

Your memory lives on with your loved ones for a while but after a generation, unless you’re famous you’re simply gone. It’s as if you never existed.

She went to bed one night in her pajamas, snuggled down in her bed and just went to Heaven. Just what she wanted. She deserved that.

My mother was a good woman who was really good at taking care of children and a house and animals that she almost seemed born to it. I don’t know if she ever wanted anything more, but my mother never even learned to drive. She didn’t need to and liked to be in her home, doing her thing and drinking her tea.

When she passed she was cremated and her remains were put in a lovely wooden box with a pretty bird carved into the top. My mother always loved birds.

Maybe she always felt like a caged bird. I don’t know.

My father kept the box on the dining room table after she died. I think that’s morbid, but maybe he just wanted some semblance of her there in the big old house with him.

Because now he was alone there. No one to listen to his stories, fears and ailments that didn’t exist or whatever.

My mother was the greatest listened I’ve ever met. The absolute apex of a good listener. I know this because my middle sister April can really talk a lot. So can my Dad. She was always sweet and genuinely interested in what you had to say. She kept her opinions to herself.

There was a surge of attention around my father when my mother died. My father loved attention. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very charming man and is absolutely great with people. He knows how to get it done in a unique and elegant way. Where do you think I learned all of my moves? I took the best of him, and have done my best to discard the worst.

Before my mother died I had conversations with my dad about how he was worried he would run out of money because the facility she was living in cost so much every month. He actually said, “I’m going to end up in the Veteran’s Home because I’ll be broke.” Healthcare in this country is a financial nightmare, but why would he think that?

Why would he say that?

Fear. But it seemed contrary to his character. I think she was living too long. “She’s very frail” he would say to me all the time. It’s like he needed her to go. I get that. I have a really firm grasp of what life is and what death is too.

I’ve been alarmingly close to them both and although one is priceless and precious, death can swoop in on its black wings and snatch the innocent away for no reason.

So dude… live for today.

Have you met your first-born daughter that you love and loves you more than you can even grasp?

My sister Janice.

You’re never going to end up in the Veteran’s Home, man. Not under Janice’s watch. You should rest easy and smile that you have the strongest person in the family looking out for you and Mom’s best interest.

Free of charge.

But my mom passed and it was sad, but she was ready to go. I’m grateful to all three of my sisters for being present through all of that because I was not. I was just living my life here in Philly doing my thing and popping into the occasional holiday party with one of my young girlfriends.

They did it all, especially Janice.

So once the surge of attention, mourning, adulation, cards, letters, love, and people faded as they always do. My dad decided to fold up his tent and go home.

Initially the loss of mom was sad but she was a really old lady, and we all loved her but we were all prepared for her to leave. You have to prepare yourself for that. Forgive me, but I don’t understand why I see people suffering so long after losing their parents. They lived their lives. You had them for so long but everybody has to leave. No one gets out of here alive.  You have to be ready for that.

The dead have a responsibility to the living and vice versa.

But there is a sense of relief that Mom is now at peace and not suffering with the pain of RA and old age. She was ready to go and she went in her chosen way.

I’d see Dad and he was happy and his usual jovial self. I’d talk with him on the phone and we’d be trading stories and it was amazing. He was finally telling me all of the wild stories from his past that I was never old enough to hear. It was great! I was even managing his Netflix because we both love film and that’s something we’ve alway been really close about.

 

But once the light completely went out on my mom and he was alone in that big house he started to want to get out of here himself. I still don’t full understand it but I think my sister Janice may because she was so much closer to the day-to-day grind of watching him plan his going from this world.

Something changed. He just gave up and got tired of playing onstage anymore. He just wanted to quit the band and work on his solo career in heaven.

It was like he was slowly trying to commit suicide. That’s not allowed in this country but I think if it were and he wanted to really go. I know my father well enough that if he wanted me to I would have been okay with him blowing his last breath in my face.

Because he put my sister Jan through hell that last year. No one will ever know how intense that was but I’ve heard from my sisters. It was as if he was this crazy tiger that kept all his powers, weaknesses, greatness and demons locked up in a den somewhere and then the old cat was left inside that den to suddenly deal with them. All of the things in himself that he had never been fixed came to the surface and cooked him alive.

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression my entire life. I turned it into art and sometimes turned to alcohol just to turn off the pain for a few hours. I like it, but I never let that shit own me. I have a strong sense of identity.

I know my father intimately. I understand his psyche. I forgave my parents for everything in my forties. You have to do that to move forward in your life.

 

Let go of the bars of your cell. Let them fall to the ground and take a step. Embrace who you are and how hard they tried to raise the four of you with not a lot of money. How they had challenges with each other in their marriage and how they should have gotten a divorce but didn’t to hold it together for you and your sisters.

How they became husband and wife and then parents to little new minds and did the very best they could with all they knew.

Much of it was so wrong but for the most of it was pretty darn right. My family is super normal and so are their children.

Even though I have felt much more of the scorn of both of my parents, I’ve managed to rise up from my own weaknesses and be a decent and wise father to my daughter, Lorelei.

I’m blessed with a lovely child that I barely deserve. She too has a strong identity and risen up from the flames of her upbringing with her mother to shine beautifully like the morning sun.

Tune in tomorrow.

I’m you about the day that my parents were really gone.

 

 

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Tales of Rock – Sid Vicious Charged With Murder

It was concluded that Vicious’ knife, which had gone missing along with Spungen’s money, was the murder weapon.

In the annals of rock musicians fucking up, few entries are more extreme than stabbing your girlfriend to death and claiming not to remember doing it later. In October 1978, bassist Sid Vicious—deep into heroin addiction; his band Sex Pistols having broken up earlier that year—woke up in his room at the Hotel Chelsea in New York to find his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Philly girl) dead in the bathroom with a wound in her abdomen. It was concluded that Vicious’ knife, which had gone missing along with Spungen’s money, was the murder weapon.

Vicious was charged with murder and gave conflicting accounts of what had happened; he said he hadn’t stabbed Spungen, then that he couldn’t remember anything and then that they were fighting and she fell on the knife. He was arrested and charged with murder but not kept in custody and attempted suicide later that month. In December 1978 he got in a fight at a rock show and was arrested and jailed; bailed out in February 1979. The following day, he died of an overdose of heroin at a dinner party. He was cremated and his mother surreptitiously spread his remains over Spungen’s grave.

 

 

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Tales of Rock – Frank Zappa Attacked

The casino quickly caught fire and burned to the ground. All of Zappa’s equipment was lost, but he survived the fire. The event was the inspiration for the song Smoke on the Water by English rock band Deep Purple.

Frank Zappa was an American musician that had a large impact on musical freedom. His father was Francesco Vincente Zappa who was an extremely intelligent chemist and mathematician who worked with the United States defense program. Zappa grew up near the Aberdeen Proving Ground and was regularly sick as child. He suffered from extreme asthma, earaches, and sinus problems caused by mustard gas exposure. Zappa’s upbringing gave him a negative stance on the use of chemical weapons. He often wrote references of germs, germ warfare, and the U.S. defense industry in his lyrics.

Frank Zappa was a great performer and his musical message was important, but deemed bizarre and strange by the media. His band’s debut album featured a song that asked Who Are the Brain Police? and in 1968 Zappa satirized the hippie culture as a motivation for money and profit. He was a charismatic personality and Zappa’s music was extremely popular in some European countries. He was also highly monitored by the U.S. government.

On December 4, 1971, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were performing a concert at the Montreux Casino when a member of the audience decided to fire a flare gun into the rattan covered ceiling. The casino quickly caught fire and burned to the ground. All of Zappa’s equipment was lost, but he survived the fire. The event was the inspiration for the song Smoke on the Water by English rock band Deep Purple.

A week after the casino fire, Frank Zappa and The Mothers played at the Rainbow Theatre, London, with rented gear. During the encore of the show, an audience member rushed the stage and pushed Zappa into the concrete-floored orchestra pit. It was a long fall and Zappa was nearly killed. He suffered serious fractures, head trauma, and injuries to his back, legs, and neck. He crushed his larynx, which caused his voice to drop a third after healing. Zappa was lucky to survive the event and was forced to use a wheelchair for an extended period. The assailant was a man named Trevor Howell who told reporters that he believed Zappa was eying his girlfriend.

The two events had an emotional impact on Frank Zappa and he was concerned that someone was trying to murder him. After making a recovery, Zappa went on to have a successful career, but was regularly bashed by the U.S. media for his edgy lyrics. Frank Zappa is quoted: “What do you make of a society that is so primitive that it clings to the belief that certain words in its language are so powerful that they could corrupt you the moment you hear them?”

In 1990, Frank Zappa was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and the disease killed him in 1993. For some reason he was buried in an unmarked grave in Los Angeles. Many people have wondered why Zappa was not given a gravestone for identification. Some theories suggest a family request or evidence of mustard gas exposure Zappa experienced as a child.

 

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Tales of Rock – The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones Dies in his Swimming Pool

When Brian Jones drowned in his swimming pool in 1969, he’d just been kicked out of the Stones as his drug consumption left him unable to contribute anything of musical value to the band.

There was a time when the Rolling Stones were the premiere rock band on drugs; they couldn’t even make it out of the ’60s without a member dying. When Brian Jones drowned in his swimming pool in 1969, he’d just been kicked out of the Stones as his drug consumption left him unable to contribute anything of musical value to the band. Some believe he was murdered, but his autopsy noted his liver and heart were enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse and his altered state likely contributed to his drowning.

The other Stones pressed on, both musically and chemically. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been arrested and jailed in the 1960s for drug possession, and their excess continued as they became tax exiles and launched debauched arena tours in the 1970s. Richards in particular doubled down on his drug consumption; his descriptions of this period in his 2010 book Life read like an addict’s fetishistic bragging.

Even drummer Charlie Watts, long the most stable member of the Stones, started using heroin in the mid 1980s. Bassist Bill Wyman was more into girls than drugs and Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor entered and left the band relatively sober, but his replacement, Ron Wood, was a different story. By the time he joined the Stones he was an established rock star via his time in the Faces. In his forthcoming autobiography, Faces, lead singer Rod Stewart relays a story in which Wood showed him that he’d snorted enough cocaine to create a hole in his nasal septum.

 

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