Monday, May 21, 2012

Robin Gibb and the loss of innocence

It's hard to capture in words what the death of Robin Gibb means to me. But look at this simple photo of Barry, Robin and Maurice, before they were the Bee Gees...

(Scroll down the article to find the black-and-white photo where Barry looks about 12 or 13 years old, Robin (centre) and Maurice about 9 or 10. The caption says the photo was taken during their years in Brisbane, which was between about 1958 and 1966.)

With their white Chesty Bonds-style t-shirts and shorts, and big smiles on their wide open faces - it's a picture of innocence, optimism, and brotherly love.

It's also a photo that breaks my heart - as a parent of two young boys who wonders what life will bring for them.

This black-and-white image of the Gibb brothers seems to capture all that was good and sweet and innocent about 1960s Australia. The tennis whites a reminder of how our champions ruled the tennis world. The guitar that hints at artistic talent. Their faces suffused with a healthy youthful radiance that mirrors how we saw ourselves - a young nation, full of talent and dreams, starting to punch above our weight on the world stage.

It's a photo of three brothers whose futures were inextricably linked, and whose lives would unfold with great highs but also many lows.

Only a few years later, as the Bee Gees the brothers would have their first Australian number 1 (Spicks and Specks), and a few years later their first worldwide number 1 (Massachusetts). After a string of hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s featuring the ethereal voice of Robin, in the late 1970s they would define the disco era, with Barry's falsetto their signature sound. They would go on to become Britain's most successful songwriting partnership after Lennon-McCartney.

The lows would come too, with their early split as a band before Robin reunited with his brothers. The periods of drug and alcohol abuse that seemingly came hand-in-hand with their massive chart success. The death of their younger brother Andy at just 30, after years of cocaine use. Later, the deaths of Maurice at 54 and Robin at 62 - both premature by contemporary longevity standards.

And today I think of Barry, now 66, the sole survivor of his three younger brothers. How must he feel? Watch him as an older man sing Immortality, which he dedicates to his brothers. Then look back at this photo of them as boys.

That innocent photo of three boys on the verge of greatness makes me wonder about how life will unfold for our two sons.

I don't wish worldwide fame on them, or anyone else. But you can't help wonder will they be happy? Will they find fulfillment? Will they avoid the pitfalls of drug or alcohol abuse that claims the lives of not just the famous, but ordinary people too - as alcohol helped claim the life of my own father at only 52.

There are plenty of self-help books and gurus to help us understand how to live well. I just hope and wish The Big Fella and The Complicated One may live happy and healthy lives, in times of peace and equality. I hope it's not too much to ask.

It's not fashionable to say so, but the Bee Gees' music has brought me much happiness over many years. Listen to First of May and try not to cry about the loss of childhood innocence. If you're a teenager in love, try How Deep is Your Love. And try not to sway along to Nights on Broadway - it's impossible.

Vale Robin Gibb, brother to Barry, Maurice and Andy.

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