The Big Huerta Meets Wilko Johnson At 70
As of this writing (7/2017) Wilko Johnson has not died. Just the opposite, he is more alive than he ever was in my eyes. To recap my chronicle (and forgive me for injecting my personal opinions at times)…this is part two of a brief writing of Dr. Feelgood and my late discovery of all things Wilko.
Since the last”The Big Huerta” I have viewed Julien Temple’s enormously touching documentary, “The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson”. This films basically chronicles Wilko’s life after he was diagnosed (wrongly) with pancreatic cancer and sentenced to less than a year to live. During that year, he played a series of farewell (the ultimate farewell show) shows ending with the Chuck Berry song “Bye Bye Johnny”. As one can imagine, this left the audience in either tears of joy or tears of sadness…with me, it was tears of sadness. Of course, these days my emotions are on the surface of my sleeve. I am not sure if I will ever be able to reign in my tears or emotions again. In fact, I cried several times during this film, one was unexpected, when a young Wilko was tearing up the stage with Lee Brilleaux and Dr. Feelgood. Another was when he was discussing being with his dying wife and watching the one that you love get taken away from you…and there is nothing that you can do. The loneliness one feels is indescribable and the heaviness that is carried around daily is not understood by folks that have not gone through this. You can see the tears in his eyes when he talks about her. When a loved one is taken away from you it feels like your world is over. Every day living is quite a challenge. But Wilko seems to rise to the occasion of facing death squarely in the face. Every breeze, every cat he sees, every passing boat, brings ecstasy to his life. He claims to have had a euphoria after he was given his death sentence, a strange reaction indeed. But he has always been a loner, not a people person. Frequently battling a lifetime of depression.
An avid reader with a photographic memory, Wilko is constantly quoting great works of literature in this film. As a depression sufferer, it is very hard to be around people without looking like a stuck up person or a weirdo with a major problem. So one does tend to spend alone time either practicing an instrument or reading, doing drugs or drinking or all of the above. So I get where he is coming from and quite possibly he is somewhat relieved that this lifelong fighting of woe is coming to an end soon, maybe welcoming it. So he chooses to live in the now and this is the only thing that matters. His life is on a countdown to certain death. We are all going to die. Wilko just knows when. He is calm, even thankful for this knowledge. None of us know when we are going to go but we are all going to die.
Wilko is an atheist and believes he will go back to where he came. Nothingness. This was my total belief before November 2014. There was nothing, no knowledge nor feeling before his birth, so why should there be anything after his death. My sense of after death has changed. I believe our soul lives on in some other plane or dimension that we cannot understand. I have had too many messages from my wife and creative guidance from unseen forces to ignore this. Again, some folks may believe it is a coping mechanism to keep surviving…if so, god knows it has helped! I have been lucky enough to “be connected” or open spiritually so I can write songs or create paintings or be able to put words together in an article that people that I don’t even know can understand. Wilko’s way of coping was to live in the moment. We all should but it is truly a hard thing to do.
There is a funny part where after all these years, and in the last year of his life, Wilko is enjoying success in a collaboration with Roger Daltrey and a hit album in the charts. The cosmic joke of it all. Well lo and behold, another doctor exams him and discovers it is a rather large tumor that is operable and which they extract and Wilko, after battling a liver infection, is seen on the banks of his hometown of Canvey Island (there is no mention of the infamous “Canvey Island monster”! The “monster” is a strange carcass that washed up on shore in 1954. It was over two feet long, reddish in colour (dig, the English spelling) with gills and hind legs, sharp teeth and small claws. It is now considered a relative of the monkfish or quite possibly an early version of Donald Trump) with guitar in hand, sitting down, because of weakness and questioning whether or not he can still play the guitar. He stands up and strums a few chords and gets a bit of rhythm going and throws down some patented stage moves. It is a scene of triumph, a scene of strength, a scene of joy, a scene of sheer ecstasy for us, the fans, Wilko will still be around, Wilko will still be able to do the one thing that helps him escape the every waking moment loneliness of his wife’s memory. It is a very touching scene of the man that really had no idea that rock and roll was going to be his livelihood and passion.
There is one more thing that I would like to comment on. Wilko is a lover of astronomy and is fascinated with the planets and the sheer size of the Solar System and beyond, the countless galaxies. I get the feeling that he is searching for answers out there. He never admits it. I feel that maybe he does believe that there is another plane of existence that doesn’t necessarily need a belief in a god. He is looking for something. He is looking for an answer. We all are. I truly hope we find out someday. To me, Wilko Johnson is an extraordinary human being that has brought joy to people’s lives, and continues to do so, and is a pillar of strength. I would love to see him play in person one day. His story has touched my heart and the thing is that I am truly sorry that it took me so damn long to delve into his music and style. Bless Wilko Johnson, may you rest in peace while you are alive. We all need to enjoy the moments more, realize them as they are happening…because you may never have the chance to live them again.
I painted Wilko as a 70 year old man in acrylic. I used the fret board of a guitar to divide the painting into the glowing and fierce fire of a man alive. Maybe this is his aura, certain people can see auras around others. I get this color impression from him. I put the sky on the other half to pay homage to his love for astronomy. He is in his trademark black but there are swirls on his t-shirt to underscore movement even when he is standing still. I chose to put a serious look on him and did not give his eyes any pupils. If you look into his eyes you may be able to see the infinite world of his galaxy and ours. Hope I did Wilko well. Love to Mr. Wilko Johnson, truly a human treasure…folks, if you haven’t discovered him, by all means, give Dr. Feelgood and Wilko a listen. You will thank me. Respects to all of you and thank you for letting me in indulge in my two passions..