Paul Plagens

My old friend Paul Plagens passed away, presumably in Austin, last Friday. By "old friend" I mean 12 years, and that I warmed up to the guy so quickly it didn't take long for us to talk like we'd been friends for a long time. I thought that was an experience limited to people within the same field of intense interest, namely music, but I'm learning that Paul affected a lot of different folks exactly the same way.

Paul was the leader of an L.A. band called Greta. They were beneficiaries of the post-Nevermind boom, putting out a few things on Mercury in the '90s. It was a point of reluctant pride for Paul that they'd been featured on Beavis and Butthead, with their video "Fathom" being one of the songs the titular art critics assessed in their usual succinct way.

When Paul moved to Olympia he'd already played the major-label game. He was moving to an artistic community where the pressure of that realm of commerce was, to put it mildly, non-existent. I can't remember when I first heard Paul's set but I remember being taken aback. His new music was determinedly un-Greta like, though no less angry. Perhaps even more legitimately angry. It dealt with loss, miscommunication, too-good communicationinternal repair and impending death. Paul's music caught on surprisingly quickly, especially for Olympia. I think that's because everyone knew he wasn't cutting corners emotionally. He had an enviable way of blending song craft with his own unembellished truths. There was no way it wouldn't connect.

Paul, Scott Taylor and I were really, really into the Beatles. We and a few of our mutual friends had a lot of bonding sessions over that in the summer of 2003. We talked about them a lot. Primarily George, at the time. It all came to a head when Paul and Scott were the special guest stars at one of my Cocktail Hell shows at Charlie's in Olympia. Cocktail Hell was piano lounge with a bad, dismissive, sometimes even distracted attitude, but that night Paul, Scott and I overcame all our collective cynicism and dived into three-part harmony on "Nowhere Man." If I had to cite a moment when I felt exceptionally fortunate to be a musician, that was it. It's hard to explain. We just nailed it. Paul's abilities and generosity with other musicians made it very easy for his fellow players to feel like they were nailing it.

Paul eventually moved back to Los Angeles, as I moved back to Seattle. We weren't in a lot of contact outside of Facebook. But he kept putting his music up. There's a whole series of solo videos he made, mostly of the stuff we'd gotten to know in Olympia. Every single clip featured a cat sleeping in the exact same place on a couch in his apartment. Of course that probably means the videos were all shot during the same afternoon, but I still like to think it was emblematic of Paul's particular brand of zen. Everything back to center.

In the matter of what haunted Paul, there's a lot I'm not comfortable discussing. Many of his closer friends know much more about the demons Paul carried around. Still, from what I knew, a few hit close to home. In what turned out to be the last time we performed together, on my old radio show on KAOS, Paul, Scott and I did "The Ballad of Pablo Diablo," probably the first hands-down optimistic song I'd ever heard from him. It was about his move to Olympia and the many people he affected with his talent, empathy, candor and occasional mischievousness. I was honored to be part of that moment, however brief, of someone seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Wherever you are now, Paul, I hope that light's blinding your eyes out. Thanks, Pablo.

Picture from
Picture here.

Popular Recent Posts