I lost someone recently; someone who meant a great deal to me when I was growing up. This person, a fellow boomer, was a source of joy for me…an escape from some unhappy times that left me feeling unwanted and lost.
Because I felt I could turn to this person, it gave me a sense of hope and acceptance.
And yet, I never met this man.
Growing up is hard. Feeling accepted is not easy. And when you truly are not accepted at school, not part of the in crowd, not one of the attractive inner circle, it can be miserable.
I walked that path. I didn’t have much hope at the time.
But what I did have was a record player. And my beloved albums and favorite bands…because for me, music was a transport to all that was possible. One band in particular resonated with me.
Three Dog Night. More specifically, Cory Wells. One of the lead singers and the force behind forming the band. The bluesy, deep-voiced talent whose love for the blues and black music permeated his soulful renditions.
He sang from his bones. He was handsome, quick-witted, and an easy smiler. He was married and faithful to his wife and loved his children.
He was, for me, an outlet of my feelings. He was of course a stranger and way out of my league. I knew that. But it was fun to imagine. And it was wonderful to listen to him sing.
Over the years, as I’ve grown older of course so did he and the band. But instead of fading into obscurity they kept touring, kept entertaining audiences. They didn’t let gray hair and extra pounds keep them from center stage. They didn’t dye their hair and try to dress like a 25-year-old. They just remained who they were.
Did they rock the wrinkle? Oh yes. To put it mildly.
I loved how I could finally see them in smaller venues, be closer to the stage, and in many ways, get to know who they were as people. They joked about moving more slowly. Recalled their memories from so many years ago. Praised new artists.
And Cory stayed (in my opinion) humble and generous. He supported many charities. He was an outdoorsman who loved to fish in his beloved retreat near Lake Erie. He was still happily married after 50 years with children and grandchildren.
I passed on an opportunity to see him and the band a few years ago, at a neighborhood-type festival not far from where I live. I don’t know what kept me away, but I thought I’d have another chance to see them anyway…I knew I wanted to walk up to him sometime, and tell him he made a difference in my life. He got me through some tough times.
You know, just be a human letting another human know he helped someone that he didn’t even know.
But I did not go. And about a month ago, Cory died. It was quick and unexpected. I’m sure his friends and family are in shock. I know I was, and still am.
It’s like a part of me has died as well. A part that takes me back to a painful and also pivotal time; those years when you’re just trying to figure out who you are, and hang on to any thread of hope.
I admit it also angers me how little recognition he got during his lifetime. Critics always wanted to take away from the band’s success because they rarely wrote any of their songs. Instead, they found (then) obscure writers like Elton John, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman and Hoyt Axton and showcased their songs. This led to 12 gold albums and 21 consecutive Billboard Top 40 hits.
No one else has achieved that.
Yet they’re not in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. And now, too late, so many are coming forward to praise Cory’s talent. I only hope he can hear it, wherever he is.
He’s still teaching me. To not wait to say the things that matter. To not assume I’ll have another opportunity to do something that could touch another person’s heart. To grab each precious moment and find the harmony.
I picture him on the most beautiful stream imaginable, with a fishing pole in his hand, humming a tune. Cory Wells (Wellsley). Rest in peace. And thank you.
“Music is the medicine of the breaking heart.”