Ode to a Guy I Met Once - Gabby of the Cadillac Tramps
I wrote this nearly three years ago, right around the time the Cadillac Tramps documentary Life on the Edge was set to premiere.
My girlfriend Shannon asked me if I had ever seen the Cadillac Tramps.
And I had to admit, my answer was rather embarrassing.
"...I might have."
The thing is, back in my bacchanalian days I saw tons of shows. I also had an unfortunate habit of not remembering certain shows, either in whole or just in parts due to an imbibing habit I had cultivated in my years of club hopping.
And even though I only vaguely remembered maybe having seen the Cadillac Tramps play once or twice, I still felt right at home when she took me to see a sneak preview of their documentary Life on the Edge. I didn't know anyone in the audience, but I still felt right at home. They were all the kind of people whose wardrobe consisted mainly of band shirts and jeans, and they were also people who collected lots of tattoos and couldn't remember what their natural hair color looked like. These were my people. They were my tribe.
And I met Gabby, aka Michael Gaborno, the illustrious singer of the Cadillac Tramps, just briefly at that sneak preview. The whole band knew Shannon, and she introduced me to everyone, but the real energy was between them. They were happy to see each other. They greeted each other with a familiarity of old friends with shared experiences.
We were on vacation in Florida earlier this year when Gabby passed away due to cancer. Shannon was quite sad. It was not a shock. Gabby had been in poor health for some time, and many knew that his end could be coming up quickly. Nevertheless it still was a sad time for many people.
I didn't know Gabby. But I knew his kind. When you live in the fast lane a lot of your friends die young. A lot, but not most. Then during the aging process when (some) of your friends get clean and sober and start to get married and have kids, (Or just join a motorcycle gang,) more start to fall. Not necessarily from crashes in that fast lane, but sometimes from the ravages of past sleepless drunken nights of drug binge partying which can speed up the aging process later in life.
Regardless of how he got there, Gabby still died way too young. And his passing made me reflect on my life and the culture I've immersed myself in, principally because of the remarkable and vivid people we gained and then lost. I've lost people who were not just icons in my life, but in the lives of so many other people whom they touched. Just last year a friend of mine and a San Francisco Bay Area punk legend Johnny Trouble passed away. His passing was a sad occasion, but it was also not unexpected. He had been in poor health for quite some time, through the ravages of his lifestyle which had left his body and his mind worse for wear.
His passing was a stark reminder for many of us about the wild ride we had endured. When I think back to that time, I sometimes wonder how I'm still alive, or why I didn't end up in a state prison. But Johnny Trouble was more than a remarkable burnout. He was a scene figure extraordinaire. Everyone had stories about Johnny. You could not have been part of the Bay Area punk scene and not known who he was, or had some sort of crazy, fun, weird, or bizarre (mis)adventure with him. We didn't just lose a friend, we lost a part of our past.
Another passing that was difficult for myself and many others was when Insaints singer Marian Anderson passed away in the early aughts. She was a tall, virtually unreal punk rock Goddess. A singer for a really good band that was also very popular in part due to Marian's habit of taking her clothes off onstage.
But the appeal of the Insaints went far beyond hyperdrive prurient interests. They were a good band. And Mirian wasn't just another pretty bombshell. Smart, talented, and empathic. For a woman who had all the reasons in the music and punk world to hold her nose up in the air, she was remarkably unpretentious, and went to great lengths to try and take care of the people who were important to her. Our friendship was strong and I often referred to her as my big sister, even though she was a few years younger than me.
Her passing went beyond the personal loss of her many friends. She was an important figure in the Bay Area music and arts scene. Her passing sent a ripple throughout California. She had not one, but two memorials: One for Northern California and one for Southern California.
Like I said, I only met Gabby once. And I met many of his friends, his colleagues, and his fans. And the mass of people that gathered for the showing was a room full of strangers, but even though I knew none of them, save for Shannon, I still felt as if I was in a room of close friends. Gabby seemed to be someone who was as wild and talented as Mirian, and sometimes as reckless and off the hook as Johnny Trouble. He was, quite clearly, a man whose energy and personality reverberated through everyone who knew him, and even people he had simply met, and others who only knew him from his performances and personae. I remember the Cadillac Tramps of yesteryear, even though I was not part of their circle. I remember seeing their name on flyers around the Bay Area quite often back in the day. And as much as I can't remember if I ever saw them perform live, (I'm about 80% sure that I did,) the passing of the frontman of their iconic band has moved me and made me reflect on my wild ride of a life, the same rollercoaster that most of my friends, living and dead, have been on.
Gabby's passing did not strike me as personally as it did with his many friends and fans, but it does strike a chord in me. I know the pain, the emptiness, the reflection, and the nostalgia all of it can bring, along with the blinding rush of a powerful personality that seems to shine so much brighter once it has left us. I know what this loss is, especially with someone who obviously touched the lives of so many people. And I will mourn his passing. Not for myself, but for his family and his friends.
Another crazy punk who grabbed life by the horns. Perhaps Gabby will find Johnny and Mirian up there, in that punk dive in the sky.