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Julian's eulogy for bill
3 September 2015
While talking to many people here in Oaxaca over the last few days I have been surprised to discover that Bill was quite a private person and as a result, many of you don’t know much about his life before he moved to Mexico. So today, I would like to say a few words about Bill and particularly his early life, before he moved to Oaxaca.
On the 16th May 1987 I said a few words at Bill and Doreen’s wedding – with ‘few’ being the operative word. I was looking forward to the tradition of the best man having the opportunity to tease and embarrass the groom in front of his friends and family with examples of both good and ‘not so good’ exploits from his past life and symbolically demonstrate how the bachelor lifestyle was going to become a thing of the past as he entered the holy state of matrimony. However, Bill was terrified of Doreen’s parents, Hank and Kay, an indomitable combination of Italian and Irish Catholics and so he issued an instruction that on no account whatever was I to mention ‘sex and drugs or rock and roll’. At the time, Bill was playing bass in The Nervous Kind, the band he came over to New York with from England, and Doreen was studio manager of Sigma Records, one of the major recording studios in Manhattan. Given that Bill and Doreen were involved in a heady and passionate love affair, lived life to the max and fulfilled many of the sensational tabloid headlines about the musical business - this somewhat limited my options. So, reluctantly, I deferred to Bill’s instructions and set a world record for the shortest ever best man’s speech at one sentence long.
Bill entered my life when I was five years old. I remember the excitement of collecting him from hospital and bringing him home and being sat in the corner of the sofa and allowed to hold my new brother all on my own. But, this scene of domestic bliss didn’t last for very long because he started to grow up. I think the term ‘the terrible twos’ was specifically coined for Bill – he soon became a force of nature. The best way to imagine him then is to think of the Tasmanian Devil from Bugs Bunny cartoons (an early favourite of his) – the chaotic whirlwind of energy, muted grunts and constant action, that never stayed still and was capable of walking through brick walls and felling trees. It was as though all the later mass of his 6’ 4½” adult frame was concentrated into the body of a 2 foot toddler. Our grandfather, another Bill Stair, was a composed and well dressed military man who survived the Second World War on a diet of Benzedrine and alcohol. Funnily enough, he too had strong views about music. One day, sick and tired of hearing Glenn Miller’s In the Mood he took out his service pistol and shot the record and in the process killed the Division’s wind up gramophone. Anyway, during one family visit when the adults were sitting around the table talking quietly after tea, I remember our grandfather suddenly shouting out aloud and jumping out of his chair as Bill, then aged three, had crawled under the table and bitten through his Oxford brogue shoe, thick leather sole and all - managing to unflap our unflappable grandfather and achieve in one split second what six years of war had failed to do.
The unique thing about Bill’s ‘terrible twos’ was that they lasted until he was nine. But one day, completely of his own volition, he decided to stop behaving badly and changed overnight into a quiet and considerate child. And I think this transformation, the verve and frenzy of a toddler balanced by a reflective and thoughtful mind set the tone for Bill’s adult life. We all know how intense Bill could be. His indignation at the injustices of the world, his passion and knowledge of music and views on politics (well, he was Mr Conspiracy Theory and was probably right). But we also know how patient and gentle he could be - towards his friends, family, students and of course his cats and dogs … and gerbils … and any other animal that came into his life.
Five years is a difficult gap for siblings – too big to be able to genuinely share the constantly changing nature of childhood and too narrow to take on the guiding role of an adult. So in truth I tolerated Bill for many years, he was after all my very annoying kid brother. But around 1972/73 two things happened - I left home and Bill became a teenager and we suddenly discovered each other and became the best of brothers. And central to this was, of course, music - recreational activities and the rest had to wait a little while longer. Bill was never short of an opinion on music – some people were overawed by his knowledge, some regarded him as a musical snob but I would like to set the record straight – Bill’s entry into contemporary music was through Alice Cooper, in particular School’s out for Summer and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. In his defence I have to say he was only 13 years old and rapidly progressed on to grownup music where his first love was Punk. He wanted a bass guitar and his maternal grandmother bought one for him and spent the remaining years of her life regretting it as he immediately joined his first band called The Pigs. Bill rapidly progressed from Punk to Post-Punk – a significant difference as aficionados know - and became a core member of musical life in Bristol where he made his first proper LP in 1979. He helped form a new band the Art Objects who in a later incarnation are still playing today. Bill also went to university where he managed academic life very cleverly so that it impacted as little as possible on his main study of music. He read Sociology at Essex University where he barely did any work throughout his three years but came out with an Upper Second degree, the second highest classification. When presented with an essay topic his strategy was to first take affront for being asked to do actually do something, then deftly turn the topic around, challenge the validity of the question and the motivation of the tutor for asking it in the first place before writing an answer on his own choice of subject. His final year thesis was on Punk.
Musical life progressed and his next major band The Nervous Kind gigged around for a while before leaving England for the bright lights of New York. The band attracted a great following and came very close to getting a record deal but there was a fundamental problem. Both the Art Objects and The Nervous Kind were too cool, they were ahead of the curve. The Art Objects pioneered a type of music that became known as the psychedelic revival with later bands such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays achieving great fame in the late 1980and 90s. The Nervous Kind pioneered a more lyrical form of music that came to be known as Brit Pop, made famous by Oasis and Blur in the mid 1990s and early noughties. Other musical projects came and went including Hugo Largo, a very chic New York band produced by Eno, then playing bass on a David Bowie re-mix of The Heart’s Filthy Lesson before finally joining the band Aenone who secured a $200,000 record deal and came to London in 1993 to record an album. Finally - after 25 years of dedication and hard work, Bill managed to get his record deal but - in true musical style, the band immediately imploded and split up.
However, the really significant aspect of Bill coming to New York was that he met Doreen. Previous girlfriends had come and gone but it soon became apparent that Doreen was different - Bill had fallen in love. Bill and Doreen embodied the principles of Gestalt theory where the sum of the parts is greater than the number of individual elements - somehow with them, one and one added up to become more than two. Their relationship was one of total and unqualified acceptance. From the early days in New York to here in Oaxaca, their lives completely revolved around each other and the rest of the world became mere satellites. It’s not to say that they didn’t connect with the world, they did. As we know, they were incredibly social creatures who engaged with friends and family, ideas, music, travel and of course animals. But, they always engaged together – even when separated. Just two weeks ago I was talking with Bill in London and a 30-minute conversation was interrupted by two Skype calls to Doreen. It is a well-known fact that people who go on long trips as they did – r.o.ws or round the worlders – often break up on returning home. Twelve months of 24-hour contact turns out to be too much for many couples, but in Bill and Doreen’s case it only seemed to strengthen their relationship.
After Bill and Doreen got together I always worried how would one survive if the other died first. A great irony of the terrible accident is that they died together. And, thanks to Lupe, we have been able to ascertain that Bill and Doreen were siting together in the back seat of the car - so that even if they had a final moment of realisation of what was about to happen, they were facing it together, sitting side by side with each other. Before we get too sentimental, their closeness could be – well, slightly exasperating at times. I could never go birding when Bill came to England in case he saw a new bird without Doreen because he couldn’t accept a new ‘life tick’ on his own. And, you couldn’t play certain games with them as I discovered when once playing the board game Risk because although they were individual players they completely refused to attack each other and the game ossified into the most tedious stalemate. But, any minor frustrations about Bill and Doreen were completely inconsequential when compared to their all -consuming love.
I want to close by talking about Bill’s move to Oaxaca. When he first mentioned they were moving to Mexico it was rather alarming because it seemed to be such a dramatic decision. I knew Bill was in despair about the Neo-Liberal climate of the US (I had to say Neo-Liberal at least once today) but Manhattan to Oaxaca? But seeing the happiness it brought him soon dispelled any doubts because I could see Bill blossoming again after a long fallow period. It was wonderful to see him make new friends, re-discover his love of music after giving it up because of his disillusionment with the cut-throat music industry, have new birding adventures and significantly start to teach. As we know, Bill liked to talk. But hearing him talk so enthusiastically about his students made me realise how much he enjoyed teaching. Yes, he was a natural performer who relished the opportunity to stand in front of a group of people who had no choice but to sit and listen. But, I realised he had opened up a new channel of communication – that like music, enabled him to reach out to people with ideas about the world and life – even if it did mean his constant correction of my poor English grammar.
When he left England in the mid 1980s, Bill quoted Russell Hoban, a favourite author of his who argued that if one feels alienated in life you should move to another country, as it will validate that sense of alienation. The initial prompt to move from the UK to the US and then on to Mexico was because he did feel out of place in Thatcherite Britain, in the Bush dynasties of the US – he was after all, a sensitive and compassionate soul. But I genuinely think his life here in Oaxaca was more than a case of avoidance. Sad as it was for us his family not to see him on a regular basis it was worth it because he found a new culture that he loved and true happiness.
So finally, I would like to repeat the toast I made at his wedding 28 years ago. I would like you all to raise your glasses to Bill and Doreen, the happy couple - because although they are no longer with us I know they are somewhere and still having a good time.