Sister Honors Memory of The Knack's Doug Fieger of 'My Sharona' Fame
February 14th, 2015, 11:51 AM
The author is the sister of Doug Fieger of the band The Knack, whose songs included the 1979 hit "My Sharona." Doug passed away five years ago today. Beth, who now lives in Los Angeles, grew up in Oak Park with Doug and their other brother, attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
By Beth Fieger Falkenstein
This Valentine's Day marks the fifth anniversary of my brother Doug's passing. Five years is a long time for someone to be gone from your daily life; you go through that agonizing period where every moment feels like a bad dream, followed by the imperceptible inching toward acceptance of what I call "the new normal," until the vacuum that exists in your life no longer, well, sucks. My journey after Doug's death was no different. And even so, there are times it feels like I just spoke to him yesterday.
This may be in no small part due to the amazingly still steady stream of people who reach out to me -- after five long years! -- to share a story, memory or thought about how Doug touched their lives. Sometimes they are friends of his with anecdotes of times together, sometimes they are strangers just wanting to say how much his music meant to them.
Of course, I imagine the initial impulse was always to reach out to Doug himself, and in an effort to close the emotional circuit they have settled for me. They usually apologize for the intrusion, fearful they have opened a wound. Little do they know.
It is precisely the gift of being Doug's proxy in this world that keeps him alive for me in whatever Next World he has traveled to. Every time a friend or a fan of his contacts me, it feels like receiving a message in a bottle from Doug himself, from across the supernatural ocean that now separates us.
Which brings me to the true inspiration for this post: I recently received one such message from Steve Cash, a school friend of Doug's in Oak Park, that resonated with me on a unique level. The story he told invoked such a specific, deeply important memory of my own that I felt inspired, perhaps compelled, to write about it here on this fifth yahrtzeit (memorial remembrance).
In his message, Steve recalled a moment from ninth grade:
Doug dancing with Rhonda Isner in the lunchroom. Moron E.H. (always jealous as hell of Doug) leading a cheer of 'Doug is a sissy!,' to the delight of his moronic friends. I remember seeing a hurt look on Doug's face and feeling bad. But no neanderthal was going to stop your brother from being who he was. Doug kept dancing.
And as the chant got louder Doug's dancing became more and more pronounced. I know I could have never stood up to that attempted humiliation. Your brother showed real character. Fast forward I'm watching Doug sing "Good Girls Don't" and the look on his face is priceless. Not only is he happy, but it is obvious he is doing what he was meant for.
To me Doug's success was a victory for anybody who was a little different, and fuck everybody if they didn't understand. It actually warmed my heart to see Doug truly feeling accepted and free on stage... I know you don't need me to tell you this but your brother was a pioneer with great character and vision.
What Steve didn't know was that for several years Doug and I shared a bedroom in our family's little house on Avon. If I had to guess I'd say it was probably through most of Doug's Jr. High years, and maybe into 9th grade. We would talk late into the night, and a recurring topic was that very theme of kids who try to put other kids down. The specifics of these conversations have faded, but the message I received was exactly the same as that in Steve's story. "Don't listen to the popular kids," Doug would regularly advise me. "Don't try to be like them. They can be mean."
I guess it's like that inspirational meme that encourages everyone to "dance like nobody's watching." Except, of course, Doug knew people were watching. And hey, let's be honest, the way Doug dressed, even back then, he was daring them not to watch.
The Music Critics
But my story is not just a corroboration of Steve's. Otherwise, you might conclude that with the success of The Knack Doug had the last laugh. Unfortunately, the hits kept coming. Only now the popular kids were replaced by the music critics. And let's not forget (try as we might) that The Knack didn't stay on top for very long. As we all know, "meteoric" describes not only their rise, but also their return to Earth.
So it was that I found myself sitting with Doug on the floor of his apartment on Highland Avenue one afternoon in early 1982. The third Knack album, the criminally underrated Round Trip, had been released the previous year and had gone nowhere, the band had gone through an acrimonious break-up (for which he was, understandably, taking much of the blame), Doug had lost nearly all of his money in a real estate investment (a home in the Hollywood Hills that had been destroyed by a mudslide), and it was no secret that drugs and alcohol were his most constant companions.
In response to a series of troubling phone conversations with him, my parents had flown to me to Los Angeles to deliver some cash and report back to them with an eye witness account of his circumstances.
Doug had a copy of a magazine -- I want to say it was the now-defunct rag Creem, but I could be wrong about that -- and was reading a review of Round Trip to me.
His head was down, and despite it being a generally positive review, a steady cascade of fat teardrops audibly hit the pages as he read. That's because Doug had already read the review, and knew how it ended. The final words of that article, choked out between his sobs, broke my heart and burned themselves into my memory:
"So you can take it from me, it's okay to like The Knack again. But as much as it's okay to like The Knack again, it's equally okay to despise Detroit's own Dougie-Dearest. I can't help it. I just don't like his puss."
Some music critic, eh? It was that fucking E.H. in that fucking lunchroom all over again. Except, where Steve Cash may have seen a flash of hurt in 1967, there is not a multiplier large enough to quantify the agony that Doug's whole body registered that day in his apartment in 1982. I have never felt more helpless than in that moment, watching someone take a gratuitous kick at my big brother when he was already down. It was so . . . mean.
I wish I could say that that was Doug's bottom. But it wasn't. It just was an accelerant. He wouldn't hit bottom for another year and a half. And I wish I could say it was me that helped him climb out of his hole, but it wasn't.
It was his then wife, Mia and his ex-girlfriend, Judy, who saw to it that he seek treatment. And it was undoubtedly the grace of God that landed him in the care a cadre of the most loyal recovering addicts known to man. But what I can say is that, like those life-lessons from years ago, Doug once again taught me that the bullies only win if you let them.
By the time he died at age 57, Doug had had more than his fair share of mocking and scorn hurled at him by those who needed to tear him down to build themselves up (which might actually be the job description of anyone who makes a living as a critic.)
And while their slings and arrows may have hit their mark, and they may have knocked him down, they never made him give up. Doug never stopped making music, he never stopped being of service to others. He never stopped being a great friend. He never stopped being a great big brother. He never stopped making me proud. He never stopped being defiantly Doug. He never stopped shining on like that Crazy Diamond.
He never, ever stopped dancing. Just like Steve said, it was what he was meant for.
So, there it is. There he was. A snapshot of Doug as I once saw him; in all his dear, vulnerable, spectacular humanity. Maybe in some way I have returned the favor to all of those friends and fans who have shared their stories with me. Or maybe, given the limited reach of this blog, this has just my own intimate Valentine to Doug.
Either way, Happy Valentine's Day, Douglas. I promise never to listen to the popular kids.
You can read Beth's blog here.