R.I.P., Barry Fey
Just received some harrowing news: Barry Fey has passed away. As anyone who's lived in Denver for any amount of time knows, Barry was a legendary and revered figure worldwide, but especially here in the Colorado music scene. We'll have much more in-depth coverage about Barry and his life in the coming days, but for now, our heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Fey family and all of the people whose lives he has touched over the years. Continue on to see one of Barry's last interviews on KLOS, taped this past February, and to read my thoughts about the passing of one of my dearest friends.
"If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand. If there's a rock and roll heaven, well you know they've got a hell of a band"... and now they'll have a guy looking out for them making sure they're getting the best shows on the otherside.
I was in a thrift store yesterday, and I heard that song playing over the speakers. As I sit here right now trying to collect my thoughts about the passing of my friend Barry Fey, I keep thinking about that refrain. It keeps playing in my head, and if you ask me, it's perfectly fitting, for the sentiment, obviously, but also for fact that the first people mentioned in that tune are Janis and Jimi, two icons, no surnames needed, both acts that Barry adored and introduced to Colorado in the late '60s.
To everybody else, Barry Fey was a legendary promoter, a revered figure in the music industry who helped shape the music scene in Colorado. To me, he was simply The Coach, my football buddy. He was Coach, and I was his assistant, a titled he bestowed on me for a role that I unwittingly stepped into and cherished filling. He was one of my best pals, and I'm going to miss him more than words can possibly express.
I'll be the first to admit we had a unique friendship. Although we were decades apart, he and I chopped it up just like there was no age difference at all. Maybe I'm an old soul, maybe he was forever young, or maybe it was just because I wasn't star struck being in his presence. I know I should've been in awe, but for some reason, I just wasn't. I just saw him as Coach, my buddy.
Don't get me wrong: He's a legend with a scant few peers, and there were certainly times when I thought, man, the thirteen year-old me would absolutely shit his pants if he knew that I was friends with the man who brought U2 to McNichols in 1987, one of the most memorable shows of my lifetime -- not for the show necessarily but for the memories it left me with, memories Barry made possible.
I'll never forget it. I'd looked forward to that show from the time it was first announced - so much so, that there was no way I was missing it, even if it meant being fired from Little Ceasars, one of my first jobs. The show was epic, even if the rest of the night was a hot mess. My childhood best friend, Gooch, bought a six pack off of some older dude and ended up guzzling the whole thing. A half an hour later, he ended up puking all over his shoes sitting on the sidewalk outside the arena in front of a bunch of people. After cleaning him off, I spent the rest of the night shoving cheeseburgers in his face trying to sober him up before my mom picked us up.
You don't forget nights like that. You just don't.
And then there was Frank Sinatra at Big Mac. It was around that same time, and Barry did that show, too, and that one was even more special to me. Old Blue Eyes was a shadow of himself at the time. I don't know if he knew it, but we certainly all knew it. Didn't matter. I was there with my pops, who absolutely loved, loved, loved Sinatra. It was the only show that he and I ever saw together. To this day, of the literally thousands of shows that I've been to in my life, that one is the most meaningful.
And it was all because of Barry.
So, yeah, I don't know what it was, why or how we ended up being friends, but he and I just hit off instantly. I loved him, and I'm pretty sure the feeling was mutual. I don't know if all the stories you've heard about Barry are true, but it wouldn't surprise me. Barry had a massive ego, and he could be curmudgeonly, I'll give you that. And there are just as many people who love him as hate him, and probably for good reason. He wasn't a saint. But he was a sweetheart. I was lucky enough to get to see another side of Barry that I don't think many people got to see. Underneath the gruff exterior, he could be a really kind and thoughtful man.
They say you can tell a lot about a man by the way he carries himself in private, when nobody's looking. Even though it probably didn't seem like it to him, I was looking and listening, intently. Whenever we got to talking about his career, which was fairly often -- I'm not going to lie; Barry loved talking about himself -- he spent as much time talking about the music, which he clearly loved, as the people, the ones he worked with, of course, but especially the fans. They were the most important thing to him, he used to tell me. While this might smack of revisionist history viewed through rose colored lenses, I'd say in spite of what some people have said, I always got the very real sense from him that he genuinely cared and never took any of us for granted.
Anyway, he was a hell of a guy, one of kind -- I always use to tell him that. Just the same, I also took great joy in busting his chops all the time, just like any of my other best buds -- and believe me, he never, ever, missed a chance to bust mine. Especially when the Broncos lost. As much as I loved Barry, whenever we watched the Broncos, he was insufferable. "You fucking homer," he'd snort, to which I'd fire back, "Godamn right, buddy! Born and raised. Did you forget where you live?" He'd then affect a pinched voice and mock me. Did you forget where you live? Meh-meh-meh. Whenever McGahee would score or have a great run, I'd give it right back to him with "Was that number 23?"
It wasn't that he had anything against the home team -- in fact, he quietly confided to me that he thought Peyton was a damn good quarterback, even if he and the Broncos didn't have a snowball's chance in hell against New England -- it just annoyed him how much the media and everyone else fawned over them all the time.
Apart from his family and the music, of course, football was his passion. Mine, too. That's mainly why we got along so well. We spoke the same language. Although we were both music men, we rarely actually ever even talked about music outside of him sharing stories -- ironic, considering that's what first drew us together. It was all football all the time...oh, and gangster movies. We both loved them, too.
This past football season, we spent many a Sunday screaming at the TVs (that's not a typo -- more on that in a minute) together, both of us spewing a seemingly endless stream of profanities that would make even Dice Clay blush. As much shit as he gave me about the Broncos, I absolutely loved watching him wring his hands over his fantasy football league -- but not quite as much as I loved watching him do the dance of joy when he won. I always looked forward to him dialing up "Jump" by Van Halen on the jukebox and dancing around the room awkwardly with his arms raised.
I didn't come every Sunday, but I came over as often as I could, always stopping on the way to pick up a rack of ribs at Big Papa's (which, naturally, he'd call ahead to make sure Frank made just right) or wings at the Piper Inn and two bottles of Coke, the ones imported from Mexico. (Oh, yeah, that's the other thing we had in common, food. Imagine that, two fat guys.) If you want to know the truth, the only reason I missed a few Sundays was on the days when all badgering about the Broncos was just too much and messed with the mojo.
But even so, I couldn't escape him. Even when I wasn't over at the house, he'd call me all during the game, or vice versa, and we'd do the same thing over the phone. My phone would ring, and even though I have his number stored in my phone as "Coach," it would always say "private number." I knew it was him. "Coach," I'd say instantly, instead of hello. At first he wondered how I knew it was him. Easy. Nobody else calls me from a private number. Before long, we'd skip the formalities and just commence to hectoring.
Funny thing is: After my dad died, I didn't watch football with anybody. I couldn't. That's what he and I did, you know? That was our thing -- well, I shouldn't say we watched the game; we sort of watched the games. Fact is, most of the time, he and I took turns napping during the game, and I'd always wake him up with my yelling scaring the beejezus out of him. So much so, that I came up with a silent cheer where I raised my fist and mimed my excitement.
Point is, football was sacred to me. When dad died, that part of me died -- or so I thought until one Sunday when Barry invited me over to the house to watch football. At first I was hesitant, but then, I was like, "Eh, why not?" I went, and like I said, we hit it off instantly. I hadn't enjoyed a game like that since dad died.
Watching games with Coach was a trip. He knew his football, man. And I'd never experienced anything like it before: Like me, Barry loved to watch the games at home - on two TVs: One was tuned to whatever game we were watching, and the other was tuned to the Red Zone Channel, a setup I soon copied at my house (albeit on two crappy old projection TVs I picked up on Craigslist). We were both completely deflated when the football season ended. "What am I going to do now?" he asked me.
Damn good question, Coach. Keep asking myself the same thing right now.
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