I can’t believe I am doing two blogs like this in a just a year.
The first time was on our sister-site Live2PlayNetwork.com when my friend and one-time bandmate, Darcey, died back in the spring. Actually that makes two blogs like this in 2/3rds of a year. Part of it is just the way time marches on. As we get closer to the end than to the beginning, we see more friends and family take that final journey to whatever it is that comes next…if anything.
In the space of a week, we lost two people who had, at different points, played really big parts in the collective life of the Evans family. Other than the importance to us, they had pretty much nothing in common—at least on the surface. One lived a long and full life. There other went way too young. One was a great-grandfather who was married for 60 years-plus. The other a single woman with a dog and a ton of very close friends. One was involved in music and audio for most of her adult life and the other would not have known which end of a mic was live. The only thing that they had in common—again, on the surface—is that in the end it was cancer that got ‘em both.
On Monday of last week (ref: early Dec. of 2013 for those reading this at some point in the Internet future) we got word that Diane Gershuny was gone. Many of you may not have known her, but virtually all of you have been touched by her work. For the last six or seven years, Diane did all of the PR for DiGiCo. And not just the kind of “Company X used Console Y on Gig Z” crap that litters the pages of the industry trades. Diane knew how to put a spotlight on her client and at the same time share it with the crew and other gear made by other companies. The results were real stories that were interesting and really valuable. It is an approach that few manufacturers and fewer PR people really understand the value of.
In a time when every publication in print and online is running on the tightest budgets ever in terms of editorial cost, that approach meant major features that were not presented as press releases in Front of House and Live Sound International among others. Diane had the chops to pull it off. Her clients had the smarts to see the value in paying someone to write something that was not just textual fellatio and the publications got major features that they did not have to pay for. Everybody won.
That was the way Diane operated as long I knew her. Which was a long time. Long before she was the audio PR maven, Diane and I were “teammates.” Before SPL and before FOH, I did a thing that started as a Web site and morphed into a print mag (I know. Seriously backwards.) called GIG. For several years, Diane was my managing editor. I was based in Altadena, CA and the corporate office was in NYC (where Diane was based). We worked really closely together—as in talking on the phone several times each day and working side by side for the better part of a week every month when I traveled to New York for final production. Side by side as in I did not have a desk in that office and she had to share hers with me.
She introduced me to people who are still in my life nearly 20 years later and I introduced her to people in my circle that she stayed close to until the very end. She gave my wife Linda her first paid photo gig and was her biggest supporter. When she was not attending shows and writing, she was... attending shows and writing. Diane was a massive music fan who took lots of artists under her wing and took care of PR and media details often without asking anything in return. When she moved to Long Beach, CA and discovered an indie shopping area full of funky little shops, she made it her mission to make it popular as well as cool. If you go there after a month or two has passed, you will find a little bench with a plaque on it dedicated to her.
My fave Diane story is one that probably no one knew about except the two of us. She was very big on making sure the people close to her were treated with respect and fairness, and that meant all of the freelance writers we worked with at GIG. This was in the late ‘90s when the Internet was just starting to take off. Publishers were salivating at the thought of a medium that (they thought) would allow them to have a vehicle to sell ads at the same high prices as print but without the costs of printing and mailing—which did not really work out as planned. Because of that “dream,” Diane and I, and every other editor in the biz, had to get the most outrageous “writer agreements” signed by all of our people. While photogs and artists got paid for one-time rights, writers made 1/3 of their rate and had to sign over absolute ownership, not only for print but for any format ever conceived at any point in the future anywhere in the Universe. Really, that is what the papers said.
But when GIG was being moved from New York to the company’s operation in the Bay Area where Guitar Player, Bass Player and Keyboard were published, and Diane was not going to be making the move, she called me and told me that she was taking those agreements with her and making them disappear. They were screwed up and completely unfair and treated the writers who WERE the magazine like some kind of serfs. GIG died not long after the two of us left and chances are those agreements would never have been referenced, but that is not the important thing here. Diane saw an injustice—however insignificant in the sphere of injustices out there—and did something about it because she could.
I last saw Diane when we were both covering the Barbra Streisand show at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Me for SPL and her for DiGiCo. (Her piece became a cover feature in FOH.) We had lunch and talked about life and friends and her health and I thought she was doing OK. She was always positive and upbeat and never let cancer define her. When I got a Facebook message from her in October telling me that A) her cancer was back in a big way, B) not to tell anyone because she needed to be able to keep working for as long as possible and C) that she was “winding things down” my heart broke a little.
After she died, the social media tributes started to hit and the one comment that sticks with me more than any other came from a woman named Bliss Bowen (another former managing editor of mine from the days when I did an actual newspaper). Bliss worked with me (out of my non air conditioned garage) at GIG as well and she and Diane become close. Bliss always does a big musician-centric Christmas party at her house and Diane was always there. Bliss wrote that at the party which happened the same night Diane let go, she kept expecting to turn around and hear her say, “Yo, babe. What can I do?” Because that is just how she was.
A much wiser person than I, who died almost three years ago and who played a very big part in my trudging the road of happy destiny, once told me to do something nice for someone else every day. To do it and then SHUT UP ABOUT IT. Because if I told someone what I had done it became about me seeking credit and approval and negated the action. It is something I aspire to and really work towards but Diane lived that more than anyone I know.
Hal Haulbrook was my father-in-law. He was a man of immense kindness and integrity in the way he treated others. When I married his daughter, I knew I had very big shoes to fill. But I did not really understand just how big (or how impossible a task it was to try to fill them) until many years later.
Hal was the kind of guy who could be a total contradiction and it always felt right. Example: From the first time I met him, I knew he was very active in the Masons. If fact, if I remember right, his daughter blew off an installation ceremony where he was being installed as lord high mucky muck of his lodge in Van Nuys in order to go out on our first date. But at the same time, he was the Grand Poobah, he was also the caretaker of the lodge. He made sure it was clean and maintained and took care of renting it out for weddings and such until he moved to Houston six years ago. It is like being the king and the janitor at the same time and he brought the same effort and care to both roles.
I always felt like Hal drew the short straw. But he did it willingly. It was like he knew which straw was the short one and took it so no one else would have to. In this case I mean the short straw because he consistently tamped down his own dreams and desires to keep the people around him happy. He turned down an acceptance to Cornell University where he wanted to study to be a veterinarian in favor of a career working for Kodak and Polaroid because his wife thought it was a better idea. He gave up his beloved lodge and moved 1500 miles away when his granddaughter got married so that he could be part of her support system for her young family and help care for his two great-granddaughters.
A smoker from the time he was barely in his teens, he did not know about his cancer until just a few months before his death. I think that as his time drew near, he started to really appreciate the enormity of his decision to live his life based on the desires of others. He could have decided to die bitter. But he didn’t. I think in the end he was at peace with the way he chose to live. For me it was a final reminder that those are shoes that are way too big for me.
I wish I had some kind of wisdom to impart. Some kind of deeper meaning to this. But I don’t. I just have memories of two people I knew, loved and admired and in the end, I guess that is all any of us have.