IT WAS BLACK THIS MORNING – cold, windy, overcast and a thick fog rolled off the lake. You have to give credit where it’s due: it’s the perfect ambiance for the other Frankie Knuckles Day. It’s the one nobody has circled on their calendar but you remember it all the same. It’s the anniversary of the day that Frankie Knuckles died.
I’m not sure if this was a watershed moment for most people, but I’ll never forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, or the twelve hours following. By a strange accident, I wrote the first story published with the news the Frankie Knuckles had died, on this day one year ago.
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There are so many jokers and frauds who have inserted themselves into “The Frankie Knuckles Story” since then. There’s one guy in particular who has embroidered his minor role in Frankie’s life so much that he’ll soon no longer be present at Frankie’s bedside when he died but also when he was born. It’s sick, you know?
Frankie wasn’t my friend. He was nice to me, because he was nice to everyone. I always admired people who seemed to treat strangers like friends and friends like family, and that’s how Frankie treated people. If you were ever disappointed when you met your idol and they turned out to be a jerk – your idol wasn’t Frankie Knuckles. I’m sure he had bad days like anyone, but I genuinely can’t remember anyone saying he’d been anything less than gracious when they met him. And you have to understand: he met people every single day.
Czarina, our editor, actually was friends with Frankie; it was she that broke the story which I later published. As I remember it, a lot of people were returning from WMC (or recovering from the annual Miami flu), her among them. I texted her that evening about some personal matter I don’t recall and her reply made me pull up short from what I was doing and stare at the words for a minute.
I think I jumped ahead to the bargaining state of grief here because I began looking for a legalistic way out of this. Maybe somebody else named Frankie died? One can know a surprisingly large number of Frankies and Franks.
They were alive, though. It was Frankie Knuckles that died. I think in the year since then, I’ve never actually said those words together – as if not saying them would defeat death.
We went back and forth while trying to wrap our heads around it. We had a source who was impeccable on the matter, a piece of my brain knew that, but I really wanted the information to be wrong. That’s why in the coming hours, when people called me a liar and accused me of pulling a sick April Fool’s joke, I didn’t get angry. I wish they’d been right.
There was a strange rehearsal of this a year earlier with Romanthony. Death brings out the best and worst in people. I think most of the worst email me. Songwriters with demo tapes they want to peddle. People crawling out of the woodwork to grind dull axes. Hastily-renamed “tribute parties” that want the blessing (or the cover) of someone that seems “official.” Drama queens attracted to the massive outpouring of grief like psychological vampires, trying to sneak into frame while no one is looking to sink their fangs in and feed.
And then the real weirdos come out.
In the days that followed I was contacted by tons of media and I didn’t talk to any of them. Not for the last time did I think about Frankie’s admonishment: “The minute you put yourself ahead of the music, you’re lost.” It’s amazing how many “problems” meditating on that phrase has solved for me.
Shortly after dawn I wrote a tribute to Frankie (not a very good one) and then I wanted to do nothing but stare at the wall and be very quiet.
I’ve often thought about the way children experience loss and death. We tell them that they can’t see their friend for awhile, but they’ll see them again someday. It’s a charming way to think about death, and I find myself thinking that way too. Frankie is just on the road, but he’ll be back in July for the party. It really feels that way.
Otherwise I’m lost. The last year has seemed like a cruel joke, the punchline repeated over and over out of sadism rather than ignorance. When Frankie died, we had just finished publishing a very long story about a group of DJs from San Francisco called Hardkiss, carrying on after one of their own passed away of a sudden brain aneurism. When Rashad died, we’d just published our issue dedicated to Frankie. And then Andre Harris, and Kevin Irving, and Ethan White, and the tragedy with Claudia Beruben and Lego on Frankie’s birthday. They were leaving the tribute event when it happened. It’s numbing.
As I write this the sun is starting to burn off the gloom. It looks like it’s going to be a nice day. Warm not for the time of year but warm for this year anyway.
It feels corny pointing out the weather, but when life isn’t corny it’s cruel so I’ll take it.
It was a similar self-conscious optimism that I think drew people to Frankie. You’d have to be deaf not to hear it in “The Whistle Song.” House Music anthems are usually overwrought, sanctified by the same forces that power gospel and rhythm and blues and all music that tries to capture the height of ecstasy for the common man.
“The Whistle Song” is just cheerful. It’s optimistic. Everything’s going to be okay – not great, not bad, just okay. You have to go through a lot of sadness in life to feel that kind of joy.
Out of all of the songs associated with him, I feel like that one best expresses the best side of the man. He suffered, all men suffer, but he kept it light. Buy into that, and see how it fits you.