By Robert Poczik
Once I had a brother, Bill. Some of you may remember him. For several years, he managed a store on Elmwood Avenue that bought, sold and traded records and stocked rock ‘n’ roll paraphernalia. It was called Play It Again Sam, and Bill was its soul. People have told me that their lives at one point revolved around that store and Bill.
He was born six years after me, and that was a constant that shaped much of our relationship. I was always six years ahead, left home six years before he did. But he died before me, at only 48 years of age.
When I left for college at 18, he was 12 years old. He told me later that some of the life then went out of the family and that things changed for the worse. Those years at home alone must have been troubling ones for him. Once he tried to commit suicide while he was still very young. Whatever brought him to that dark place remained with him his whole life.
He spent his formative years in the tumultuous 1960s, when a seductive counterculture roared into being. Bill was at its forefront, and lived a rock ‘n’ roll life. He was glorious to behold — tall and whippet thin, with tight jeans and a long full golden head of hair. He lived in San Francisco when it served as a magnet for rock music, left-wing activism and psychedelic drugs. He was present with American Indian activists at Wounded Knee.
He said that the two most important things in life to him were jeans and rock ‘n’ roll. He burned bright, and began a long process of burning out. All the signal features of such a young, bright life do not wear well into middle age, and the drinking and drugs that were part of his life eventually caught up with him.
He was an alcoholic. Perhaps he had a genetic makeup that caused his addictions to get such a strong hold on him. He certainly had a void he tried to fill, a dark place that seemed to grow and take hold of him. The drinking pushed it away, quieted it for a while. Late in his life, he spent six months in a psychiatric center, with no alcohol and a lot of counseling. The day he was released, he started drinking again. Eventually it resulted in his death.
Bill dropped out of college and defaulted on his student loans. That shaped his work life, as he always worked underground and off the books so that he couldn’t be tracked and caught. So, unlike me, he did not build up Social Security or a pension, and that left him in middle age dependent on family and friends.
At Bill’s funeral service, the place was full of people whose lives he had touched, who spoke glowingly of how he was the only person who had ever really listened to them and understood them. They loved him; they admired him; they lionized him.
Once he tried to write a novel. It was called “Rouge et Noir,” and was set in a post-Apocalyptic America. He wrote only fragments, and what he left behind is episodic, lyrical, brilliant, dangerous — a reflection of who he was. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.” I believe that Bill lived his life all the way up. Bullfighters live dangerous lives and often die young. Bill lived a dangerous life and died young. But while he was alive, oh how he burned bright.
Robert Poczik, who lives in Williamsville, had a troubled and talented younger brother, Bill.