Steve is a “little while friend”. The term harkens back to a book my daughter read many years ago about friendship and long term versus little while friends, those we meet and become close to for a short time, like on a camping trip or at summer camp.
We met after a summer concert at Cannonsburg Ski Area back in 2012, at which he performed as a guitarist for a popular group. He was manning a souvenir table following the concert. I really enjoyed the music, and introduced myself and complimented him on the concert. We talked briefly and I purchased a souvenir photo of him with a group of other performers, which he signed specifically for my wife and me. Eventually I left but felt compelled to contact him the next day and continue our conversation. He invited Deb and me to his hotel room for a time to chat and share his memories of life on the road, as well as to show off a new song he’d just written. We closed out the morning by taking him to the airport for his flight back home.
Steve and I kept our budding friendship going through email, and he shared with me his performing plans and some new ideas for small group gatherings while I shared some of my business background and interests. We continued to keep in touch for a couple of months and concluded our conversation in November when we both expressed how we were looking forward to seeing each other again. Then we stopped conversing and it seemed that our little while friendship had run its course.
A couple of days ago I was thinking back about that time and decided to reach out just to see where life had taken Steve, and what he was doing now, eleven years later. I was stunned and deeply saddened to learn that less than two years after our friendship began Steve had passed away from cancer. And then came the regrets, if only I had kept the conversation going, if only we had seen each other again, if only I had made more of an effort to stay connected, if only I could have been there for him in his struggle.
I felt compelled to find those old emails and reminisce about the short time we had to get acquainted. It really helped to refresh my memory about our conversations and rest reassured that yes, he considered ours to be a friendship that had actually helped him figure some things out as he made new career plans and reinvented himself. Despite our brief friendship, it helped me to know that indeed I made a difference in his life, for the short time he didn’t know he had left. We had focused on him and me during our conversations and not the fact of his celebrity and his relationship with other celebrities.
You see, this Steve was Steve Weisberg, member of John Denver’s band during those great years from 1973-1977. For years he traveled with John and performed at concerts and shows like Rocky Mountain Christmas with John, John Sommers, Dick Kniss, Hal Blaine, Steve Martin, Olivia Newton-John, Valerie Harper, and so many others. It’s sad to realize that of those names I just mentioned Steve Martin is now the only survivor.
Steve Weisberg was the only celebrity I ever met with whom I felt I might not be influenced by that celebrity aura, a celebrity that I felt like I could interact with as an ordinary person. I made a conscious effort to focus on Steve, and I think he really appreciated that. That was the least I could do for someone who indirectly influenced my life more than he could ever know. In return Steve gave me some incredible insights into who he was, who he aspired to be, and what friendship looks like.
At one point I shared with Steve a tribute “Ode to a Minstrel” I had written about John Denver a couple of years after his untimely death because I sensed Steve was looking for some meaning in that time of his life. His response was,
“The poem is absolutely wonderful. You could tell I’m trying to figure out what it all meant and why. You helped nail it for me. I look forward to our lasting friendship” …email from Steve Weisberg
Then I put on my business consultant hat and asked him a more challenging question, “You have much more to offer than stories about being John’s lead guitarist for a few years and that was evident in the motivational story your friend told about you. You clearly have a God-given purpose in life, to enhance peoples’ lives with good music and stories. Back in ’72 that purpose translated to a vision of lead guitar for John Denver, a very clear picture of what success would look like and you did it. If you don’t mind a question, as you reinvent yourself this time, while your purpose remains the same, what will success look like this time around? What’s the new vision? Please pardon my asking, as a professional business consultant this is what I do.” Steve’s answer,
“Success: I think success is essentially self-approval (which implies that I have something I’m giving that people find to be of help/value/amusement/spiritual). Numerical success … hmmm, I just want to be able to live comfortably, normally, without too much financial insecurity.
But the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
And the main thing is to acknowledge what my little gifts are, and to try to share it with those who want. Success to me now has a heavy quotient of being involved with my fellow humans. To show who I am, to see who they are, and to seek out the mutual intersections. Very fortunately, I can get paid to do this.
Specifically, I’d like to be regularly on the road, doing something similar to what we did yesterday, but a little more structured (only so that I can find numerous common denominators that allow everyone to relate and enjoy). I also want to be playing concerts regularly.
I want to be remembered as someone who finally took the trouble to try to reach people, Terrance. And who succeeded in that.”email from Steve Weisberg
That last paragraph, those two sentences, say so much to me about the man Steve aspired to be and was becoming as he reinvented himself. At that time we were both 62, and trying to sort through who we were and who we wanted to be as we entered what I sometimes think are the richest years of our lives. That we discovered we were doing that together and supported each other was the seed of a growing friendship, one that I regret not nurturing through to maturity. But it helped me understand just a little bit better what true friendship is about. And it’ll help me remember Steve the way he wanted.
Steve, thanks for the privilege of being your friend; rest in peace my friend…Terry