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the Bee Gees Were Three:
A Valentine to a Beloved Artist from a Grieving Fan
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a.k.a., Dr. B.L.T., the shrink-rappin' rock doc.
I recall when the Bee Gees were threeHis voice was silenced too soon. Those who knew the band for more than their dominion over the disco sound of the mid to late seventies, understood what a valuable member of the Bee Gees Maurice Gibb was. With his bouncing bass-lines and multi-layered keyboard cakes of sound, he shaped the sound that gave the band one of the greatest legacies in rock history. On Sunday, January 12, 2003, he breathed his last breath after suffering from a cardiac arrest apparently triggered by complications of a blocked intestine. The news came as quite a dramatic shock to the family, friends and fans of the man and his music.
I recallMost folks don't realize how deep their love is for a musician until that musician passes away. Consider Curt Kobain, Jimmy Hendrix, Elvis Presley, George Harrison, John Lennon as examples. Though Maurice was not the cynosure or center of attention, he was arguably the foundation upon which the Bee Gees house of music was built. Maurice was there throughout a remarkable four-decade span in which the band remained on the cutting edge of variegated popular musical genres.
Though Maurice would not have us remember him by the dreaded "D" word, a discussion of his life and his music without any reference to it at all would represent a conspicuous gap and a gross act of critical negligence. I must admit that I've always found disco to represent a guilty pleasure for me. Back in my high school days there were three phenomena one would never admit having an affinity for: the mellow magic of Barry Manilow, the fruit-flavored bubble gum of the Bay City Rollers and the sucky sounds of a disco band. While I also embraced much of the music that critics and "cool" peers embraced, I must admit, (to borrow a song title from one of Barry Gibb's most successful solo albums), I was “Guilty” on all three counts. One day on my way home from the local record store, where I had just purchased an album of greatest disco hits, I was accosted by a so-called friend who asked me what was in the bag. At first I would not let him see it, but eventually I took the risk. His look of marked disdain served as a harbinger of the carping words that were about to spew like venom from his mouth. It was the dreaded "Disco sucks!" reply. I had been caught red-handed. What could I do to cover my sense of utter embarrassment? I didn't plan it, but the words leaped out of my mouth without warning. "Yeah, but it sucks good!" I replied. There was nothing profound about my statement of defense, but it does summaries my sentiments about disco quite succinctly.
I'm sincerely apologizing for the fact that I'm about to sound like a blind, deaf and dumb Bee Gees apologist. I'm going to bring up the touchy subject of Saturday Night Fever. Some say that Saturday Night Fever, and the concomitant disco heyday that cemented their musical fame was their greatest misfortune. Sure, they were victims of the fever they helped generate. But those who diss and dismiss the music of that best-selling soundtrack of all time miss the message of the lyrics, the hypnotic power of the pulsating beat, the raw energy that the music conveyed, and the extraordinary tight harmonies contained in each tune. Many albums are deemed artistic failures simply because they are commercial successes. I must agree with critics to some degree, Saturday Night Fever was not their crowning glory but it wasn't completely void of such talent either.
I recallMaurice Gibb played a primary role in writing some of the greatest Bee Gees songs. His songwriting presence was especially conspicuous in the early years in which a Beatlesque sound gently and gracefully evolved into a series of beautiful love ballads that carried a distinctly unique Bee Gees sound. “I Started a Joke” was a dark departure from the trio's central theme of love and romance. It told a story about the domino effect that one individual's words set in motion. It contained a seriousness that was part and parcel of the Bee Gees music of the sixties. Their stage presence, on the other hand, was exceedingly playful, and Maurice's trenchant wit contributed greatly to the convivial atmosphere generated in their live performances. And though laughing mattered, the sixties were no laughing matter.
The sixties represented a breeding ground that spawned some of the most memorable music of contemporary Western culture. But most of the most prolific artists of that era (including the Bee Gees) drew their inspiration from angst, pain and international malaise, not joy. With the exception of what the first decade of the new Millennium has offered heretofore, the sixties was arguably the most overwhelmingly turbulent and troubled period in the history of Western civilization. Viet Nam; the Cuban crisis involving the Bay of Pigs episode; the assassination of JFK; racial hostilities; the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; and the cold war were among the colossal events creating what was then an unprecedented level of international anxiety. The sexual revolution and the open questioning of authority that grew from that era, while providing an outlet for built-up tensions and conflicts, also chipped away at the sense of absolute values and innocence that in the past had been a source of comfort and security. Marriage also took a direct hit, and young women who gained access to the pill and to legalized abortions were faced with painful choices that teens of yore never had to struggle with. Can't cope? Cop out with dope! That was all the hope youth culture offered to its own in this troubled time. Reality? That was for those who could not handle drugs. The drug culture was intended to provide a transcendental path away from a world folks could not deal with. Drugs numbed the mind, but any psychologist will tell you that avoidance and denial are revolving doors that can only lead to self-destruction. On a more positive note, the world also turned to music therapy to relieve tension. When drugs were not the center of the musical experience, music provided a positive, constructive outlet. Some songs, like “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Let it Be,” “He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” actually offered overt and/or covert solutions. Back in the days when the Beatles were four, and the Bee Gees were three, the words and music of heartfelt love songs soothed and comforted the soul. The musical textures, harmonies and songwriting skills provided by Maurice on songs like “Words” helped to create a certain tranquil ambience while restoring innocence and order to a chaotic world that had been robbed by those characteristics.
Back when Maurice was hereListening to the music of the Bee Gees may be a divine experience and it’s hard to imagine the Bee Gees being anything but three, but they were not the holy trinity. He may have sang like one, but Maurice Gibb was no angel. He openly admitted to being a recovering alcoholic, and he undoubtedly had other personality flaws. Was Maurice Gibb driven by the fleeting fever of fame, or the lure of filthy lucre? If his goal was to prevent his music from becoming commercially successful, he failed miserably. But commercial success, as a byproduct of hard work and stellar skill, is not sufficient grounds upon which to conclude that money or fame for that matter were at the heart of this, or any other artists' motives. While it is not up to us to judge the motives of an artist, we can observe the fruits of an artists' labor and draw certain inferences from our observations. One thing became clearly decipherable as I studied the musical contributions of Maurice Gibb to the Bee Gees. Just like Jesus, he used his talents and his time on earth to spread joy, peace and good will throughout the earth. Music was his vehicle to promote such good will, and the harmonies he helped to create could be regarded as a metaphor for the divine harmony the universe was designed to reflect. While in certain musical circles, using music to spread moral depravity, self-centeredness and racially charged hatred is the order of the day, Maurice's music only added to the beauty of this earth.
No one getsIn reaction to the reductionistic atomism of their day, turn-of-the-century Gestalt psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler stressed the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If these pioneers of psychology were alive today, they would probably agree that the Bee Gees were the Bee Gees because they were three. Andy Gibb, the baby brother of the Bee Gees who passed away of drug-related heart failure in the late seventies, was never officially a part of the musical trio or the Gestalt that was the Bee Gees. Therefore, the loss of Andy, while tragic and lamentably untimely, did not create the conspicuous chasm that the loss of Maurice will inevitably produce. We will be sadly deprived of the slice of heaven he contributed to the band. And, just in case heaven is the “Rock 'n Roll Heaven” that the Righteous Brothers pictured it to be in their 70s smash single, die-hard fans of Maurice Gibb will be “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” until the day we die just to see and hear him again. One day, we hope the circle will be unbroken.
Andy's goneThe Bee Gees taught us the best way to mend a broken heart. Along with the support and love of friends and family members, a broken heart is best mended with music. The surviving Bee Gees may need to re-learn or re-teach themselves that very lesson. Though fans do not hurt in the same way, or with the same level of intensity as close friends or family, we all hurt in our own way, and will dearly miss the days when the Bee Gees were three. But are those days really gone? In a sense, the Bee Gees are still three, for I believe that the spirit of Maurice will remain in the hearts of his brothers. I believe that his spirit and memory will continue to co-write and join in the singing of beautiful new Bee Gees melodies. My heartfelt sympathies go out to Robin, Barry, and their families, along with Yvonne (Maurice's wife of twenty plus years) and Maurice's two children. There appears to be a big, dark, daunting hole in the band. But as the twins of time and music begin to heal the gaping wound, that whole will close, and with that closure, comfort will ensue. As for Maurice,
Rest in peace, and may your music go on.
***Lyrics extracted from
original Dr. B.L.Tune, When the Bee Gees Were Three, with the exception
of the last line, extracted from another original Dr. B.L.Tune, The Song
That Will Never Be Sung. Song titles incorporated into the lyrics
of When the Bee Gees Were Three are from original Bee Gees hits. They are
part of Bee Gees history.