Jenna Cesar remembers Kevin Gleeson
This article first appeared in modified format in The Australian Songwriter Issue 117, July 2016 (view the original here).
On the 19th of April, when Kevin Gleeson died… people noticed. Maybe not across the oceans, or even too many across the narrow sea. But in Kevin (Kev to those who knew him)’s island home – in the State of Tasmania, and in the region’s music community – the ripples rocked us hard and heavy. Our local network of musicians stopped what they were doing for days. There was little talk of much other than Kev. Not even the death of musical monolith Prince, two days later, did much to interrupt the flow of tributes that flooded the Facebook pages of all those who knew this unassuming man.
I wanted to write this article earlier, but somehow writing this down gives it the unpleasant weight of truth, and the truth is, I didn’t want to really believe that Kevin Gleeson is finally gone. Though I have changed with the years, ‘moved on’ you may say (as have many of my friends), Kev was one constant on which I could rely. I always knew where to find him. No matter the day, no matter the year. He would always be seated at the counter of his favourite bar of the time, most oft with someone seated beside him, and for three good years that someone was I.
Although I met Kev several years earlier, it was around a decade ago, in the years I attended the UTAS Conservatorium of Music (along with many of our compatriots here at ASA) that he became someone with whom I can never disentangle the fibres of my memory. Kev would become synonymous in my mind with a lengthy period of time. It would become impossible to think on an expansive list of places, people, and poetry – the poetry of sound – without those memories being tainted always with his presence – a nurturing and ever-present spectre. Kev was my roommate for at least three years, and my daily dining and drinking companion for all of them. My moving abroad failed to end our friendship, because Kev is not someone with whom friendship ends.
Kevin Gleeson is probably the only person who will ever get away with chastising me “you old tart,” (of which the memory brings a warm smile to my newly aged face) because for Kev malice could never be deemed to be the intent. Julie Michael, a friend of Kev’s much longer than I, described him to me as “so open hearted, genuine and Mr kind bear,” and her comments are unremarkable because this is how everyone remembers Kevin Gleeson.
Little Miss Music Tasmania aka Jessica Dix (who was kind enough to interview for this story) has worked with Kev over the years and tells of his devotion to the local music scene.
He inspired many artists and mentored them by either booking them [himself] or helping them get their first gigs.
She also charges him with inspiring her own music booking career.
Kev was the one who introduced me to the music scene.
ASA Tasmanian regional coordinator Matt Sertori felt a similar breadth of support from Kevin Gleeson. Speaking with me shortly after the news of Kev’s death broke, he opined:
People fall away. They get married, they have kids, they stop going to gigs. But Kev, he was the last man standing. He just kept going out and kept supporting the scene.
Perhaps Kev saw himself as a father figure to the young musicians he mentored? I can certainly remember, on more than one occasion, him laying a blanket over me when I fell asleep on the couch, or picking me up from the pub when I was too drunk to make sense of the taxi listings. Some might say he was married to the music – but by the time I met Kev he’d already been married for longer than my life-time. For over 20 years Kevin Gleeson was married to his first love Kerry. He didn’t speak about her often, but when he did it became apparent he would never marry again. They would always remain friends, but the local music community would become his second family.
Two days after his death, ABC Radio aired a segment on Kev interviewing local musicians (and good friends of his) Katie Warren and Debra Manskey. Three days after that, Kev was given over a half-page write-up on page seven of the Sunday Tasmanian, by music journalist Kane Young. The headline read “Local music loses a champion.” These were not unexceptional feats for a man as humble as Kevin, but there was more to Kev than he presented. I was once drinking with him at our regular haunt Irish Murphy’s, when it became known he was a highly-skilled pilot. The only reason he saw fit to mention this is because another punter was talking some technical jargon that Kev corrected him on in passing. In the ensuing conversation, said punter bet that if Kev could produce his pilot’s license he would put $50 over the bar. Kev was swiftly able to produce a picture of it on his phone, but didn’t carry the license around with him (he explained). The stunned punter apologised and bought our drinks. It was the first I’d heard of this in many years of friendship, but that was just the kind of guy Kev was. So diffident it took me nearly a decade to acquire much knowledge of his achievements, and even after, I still read things I didn’t know about him in Kane Young’s story.
It was Kev’s genuine, self-effacing and semi-subservient nature that garnered his death the level of attention it received. The tangible loss our community felt, not the fact he was an aerobatic pilot, rescue diver, major network videographer, highly successful graphic animator, and the best damn sound guy I’ve ever worked with. Kev was all of those things, but mainly, he was just Kev. He was always there, and we thought he always would be. But the ‘last man standing’ has finally been forced to take a seat, and the Tasmanian live original music scene will always be the poorer for it. Like Violent Femmes bass player and fellow local music supporter and enthusiast Brian Ritchie said:
Music heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Even big cuddly Kevvy-bear shape and size.
This is also musical heroism – Brian Tairaku Ritchie.