To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, Bobby Load was a drinker with a singing problem. He died this morning after weeks in hospice, and long weeks in the hospital before that. His death surprised no one. Really, he’d been dying for 20 years.
If you were out on the local music scene from about 1995 to 2010, you have a Bobby Load story. My old boss at City Link, Jake Cline, often told the story of how he was sitting at the Poor House one night when he saw Bobby and asked how he was doing.
“Just got out of rehab,” Bobby responded.
Jake expressed his sympathies and asked when that had happened.
“No,” Bobby responded, “I mean like I just got out of rehab. It’s right over there.” He pointed down the street.
I’ve got a couple Bobby Load stories. There was the time he showed up to a house party, raring to go, at about 6:30 a.m., when everyone was passed out or on their way. But the one I usually tell goes like this:
We were at the Billabong Pub, down in Hallandale Beach. This would have been 2006 or so. A lot of the local-music old guard were there, I think it was a reunion show or a farewell show or something else of that nature for some band that was reasonably big in the early 2000s down here. Maybe Whirlaway. Anyway, Bobby and some ridiculous goth kid were both angling for some girl, and the goth kid didn’t take kindly to that. He shoves Bobby into the women’s bathroom and beats him about the head and neck — nothing too damaging, really, the kid had arms like No. 2 pencils, but Bobby being Bobby, a feather could’ve knocked him to the ground. So the goth kid runs outside, where he’s surrounded by many of Bobby’s friends and acquaintances, who make sure he doesn’t leave till the cops show up. I think Duncan Cameron from Hashbrown was out there, among others. Meanwhile, Bobby comes stumbling out of the women’s room, looking none the worse for wear given the beating … except that there is now a dark stain on his jeans from his crotch down to mid-thigh level.
Bobby starts stumbling to the door, muttering to himself, and I sidle up next to the man. He gives me a blank look — Bobby and I were introduced at least half a dozen times, but he never remembered me. “Bobby,” I said, “I’d check your jeans.”
He looked down, gape-mouthed, and then said something I will never forget. “Aw, man, I pissed myself. I hate when this happens.”
I hate when this happens. Genius.
I must’ve told that story 100 times at least, and the idea that there was a man for whom pissing his jeans was such a routine occurrence that he could complain about it in such a fashion never ceased to get a laugh. But now, now that he’s gone after a lengthy stay in hospital and hospice, after he put in an appearance at the funeral of another local-music icon, Dan Hosker, that was, in a word, strange — a yellow-hued shell of a man, yelling at inappropriate times — I can’t help but think I wish I would have taken these sorts of events more seriously. There were plenty of people in Bobby’s life who tried to get him help. I was not one of them. I laughed at him and bought him another beer. Because everyone loves a drunk.
But Bobby was who he was, and maybe I’m not the one who missed a chance to help him. Truthfully, I think anyone who tried to help the guy out of love was probably wasting his time. There was a part of Bobby that wanted to change — he told me several times that he wanted to do something to change his life, maybe start writing, like me. But mostly, he was, if not happy with who he was, at least accepting of it.
It’s a shame, because the man really was a hell of a singer. His first major band, Load, had already broken up by the time I moved down here, but his ferocious howl was still intact throughout his years in Southern Flaw. Witness this performance from the 2004 City Link Music Fest. (Note, too, the intro from bandmate and close friend Pat Joyce, who says, “You think I’m a drunk guy, look at this guy. I love him.” The casual dismissal of Bobby’s astronomically huge problem with booze was common to most of us who knew him.) Or this from 2006 in Stranahan Park. Bobby had a voice that was part Kurt Cobain, part wounded badger. But he could tone it down and sing when he wanted to — I recall a solo acoustic performance of “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy (I Got Love in My Tummy)” that was weirdly poignant.
Still, it was the howl that people remembered and even after he started to really fall apart by the end of the last decade, even after the howl was not as powerful, and the musicality was all but gone, the howl was enough to land him briefly in The Psycho Daisies. It was a particularly short-lived gig because the founder and guiding force of the band — and another famously obliterated South Floridian — Johnny Salton, died in 2010. You can see the voice isn’t quite what it was at this 2009 performance at Alligator Alley. Take a good look at that video. It was taken just three years ago, and half the people in it are dead.
If there is an afterlife, Bobby is sitting at the bar — because they can’t 86 you in heaven — trying to find a beer and some change for a bus ride home.
UPDATE: If anyone would like to help with the costs of Bobby’s funeral arrangements, visit the Bobby Load Tribute Facebook page for more information.