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A dark Great White wake

May 01, 2003|Bob Baker | Times Staff Writer

"What's left in her world, the child's gone," Jack Russell sang a few minutes after midnight Wednesday to about 400 fans at the Key Club in West Hollywood. They'd come to see the founder and leader of Great White onstage for the first time since a flawed pyrotechnic display at a Rhode Island show killed 99 people, including Great White's new lead guitarist, 31-year-old Ty Longley.

Heavy-metal wakes, such as Tuesday night's benefit concert for Longley's pregnant girlfriend, are incongruous affairs. A music born of a youthful sense of immortality clashes with the realization that life is fleeting. The fans, most in their 30s and 40s, many of them Great White devotees since the mid-'80s, understood this. Nothing Russell could say would lift their spirits. The Feb. 20 tragedy in West Warwick, R.I., was too big -- "the 9/11 of the rock industry," one fan said.

Aging metal bands like Great White are easy fodder for satire, but their fans are close-knit because they, like the artists, have had to put up with mockery and have decided the music -- shrill, rumbling, unapologetic -- is worth it. Great White's fan base had shrunk to the point where to be a fan was to achieve a special intimacy, and to hear of the Feb. 20 tragedy, which not only killed 99 but injured almost 200, meant a special hurt.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 02, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Great White -- An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend about an appearance by the founders of Great White said they appeared shortly after midnight Wednesday. In fact, they performed shortly after midnight Tuesday.

Shawn Castrorao, who grew up a fan in the San Gabriel Valley, wished she could ask Russell why the band used pyrotechnics in the confined space of the Station, the West Warwick club. Lawyers for the band say they had the club's permission; lawyers for the club say the band never raised the issue. "I think it's awful," she said, but she won't know how to feel about the tragedy "until I talk to them and ask 'What happened?' ... I want to know why."

Smoke Lebole, a musician who said he was a friend of Longley's, was still tormented by the way the victims died. "Burned to death," he said, horrified at how medieval it sounded. "He didn't deserve this."

"Tonight is a kind of closure," he said. "I'm hoping somebody will say something to make sense of this, but I know they won't."

The half a dozen L.A.-based metal bands that performed Tuesday night tried. Singer Christi Baeuerle brought to the stage an acoustic guitar that Longley had admired, so that "Ty is with us here in spirit." A band Longley played in before joining Great White last year, 5 Cent Shine, performed while a video screen showed a tape of Longley playing at the Key Club last summer. The gloriously egomaniacal CC DeVille, performing with Samantha 7, counseled the audience, "You shouldn't let little stupid things get the best of you, 'cause sometimes it takes a tragedy" to put them in perspective.

Organizers of the benefit, which raised about $5,000, read a statement from Long- ley's girlfriend, Heidi Peralta. She said Longley, who was born in Pennsylvania and came to L.A. five years ago, had fulfilled one dream, of playing with a band he had admired as a kid. They played an audiotape from Longley's father, J. Patrick Longley, who thanked the band and its employees for being "his brothers away from home" and ended by saying, with a sob, "Rock on, guys."

Then it was Russell's turn. "Words could never express the pain we feel in our hearts over the loss of Ty and our other 98 family members," he said. He stopped and wiped his eyes. "We love you!" somebody shouted.

"This has been a very difficult time," Russell continued. "If this has taught me anything, it's how fragile life is, how every day we should live each moment to the fullest."

With that in mind, Russell said, the band would go back on the road, playing a series of summer shows and donating its profits to a fund for victims of the fire. The band's attorney, Edwin F. McPherson, had said earlier in an interview that 55 dates were planned with other metal bands, including Warrant and LA Guns.

"It's important to us that we take care of our own," Russell said. And then, with Kendall accompanying him on electric guitar, he sang one Great White song, a stark ballad called "Mother's Eyes":

Where did I go so wrong

My future, my baby

Tell me what's goin' on ...

What's left for the world

The child's gone.

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