Say Goodbye by Lewis Shiner (Encore)

While skittling down a different Wikipedia rabbit hole, I came upon the name of Skip Spence. He is rather obviously the model for “the legendary Skip Shaw” in Say Goodbye, where Shaw is Laurie Moss’ love interest and one of her principal antagonists. (The other two, I would say, are Laurie herself and the structure of the music business.)

Say Goodbye by Lewis Shiner

Both Skips were talented guitarists who were well-known in late 1960s West Coast rock and roll circles. Both had a semi-famous song or two, both recorded a single solo album, and both largely withdrew from the music business. Both had heroin problems. Real Skip died a few months after Say Goodbye was published.

Shiner give fictional Skip a better life than his model had. When the book opens, Shaw has a nice home filled with collectible art, a legacy of the money he earned during his brief stardom and one he didn’t manage to piss away during his darker times. He’s making decent money as a session player for tv and radio commercials, and he’s in the garage band with Gabe, Jim, and Dennis. He’s sober-ish, or at least off the harder drugs. Shaw is still wrestling with his demons, and though he doesn’t have them pinned, he’s got a decent grip on them. At least until Laurie shows up, giving Shaw glimpses of what had been and what might be again.

Spence mixed schizophrenia with LSD and heroin, and he never really recovered. In Say Goodbye, when Shaw meets someone who knew his previous work, he gets a question that Spence probably got a lot, too: “You’re still alive?” Despite his apparent best efforts, he was. One profile described Spence as someone who “neither died young nor had a chance to find his way out.” With Laurie Moss and the rest of the band, Shaw has a belated opportunity to find his way out.

A year before the time Say Goodbye is set, Skip Spence had written a song for an X Files tribute and performed one last time with Moby Grape. Within half a year of its publication, he was dead of lung cancer.

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