The Bitter Truth is that when I was a punk no nothing 18 year old I thought of 50 as being old. Really old. And if anyone back then had said "Did you hear so and so died they were Fifty." I would have made the snide remark, "No they weren't too young. Fifty is old." Of course they died." But now that I am forty-six (where does the time go?) my opinions are different as to what is old. I bring this up because a week back I heard that Maggie Estep had died of a massive heart attack at the age of 50 (only 4 years older than I am) I thought, "My god, she was way too young." For those of you unfamiliar with Maggie she was part of the early 1990s alt slam poetry movement. She played stages ranging from the tiniest NYC coffee shops to the stadiums stages of the Lollapolooza festival.
She was bright and gritty.
But a few years before she hit the "big time" (a relative term) I met her on the stairs of the New York Comedy Club. We were both waiting for our time on stage. I remember her sad eyes and puffy lips. Although are acts were very different, mine traditional stand up, her's modern beat poetry, we were both trying to perfect our craft by throwing ourselves on the mercy of drunks, tourists and strangers that came out to be "Made To Laugh" on a Tuesday night. We both waiting, dealing with our nerves in different ways. I remember watching her 3 minute set and being drawn to her unusual vocal patterns and whip smart comments. All which flew over the heads of the knuckleheads screaming "Where are the jokes?!" I was one of maybe 4 people who applauded when she finished. I don't think she watched my set about "Love Handles and "Airline Soda."
The following Tuesday night I saw her as I sad on the steps scribbling my jokes on to tiny post it notes I heard her raspy voice, "Back for another round of abuse?" Maggie asked as she climbed the stairs. "Yeah. You too?" I asked. "Yup." She smiled and told me about the poetry slams show was part of and how she never thought she would fit into traditional venues. After that night's set she hung back and actually watched my act. Commenting after "That love handles bit was kinda funny. Gross but funny."
I never saw her again at the comedy club. Then a year or so later she signed to Imago Records, the Terry Ellis owned label where my now first ex-wife (relax I only have one ex wife) worked. I met her on a couple of other nights at events where she was performing. In her own space, with full appreciation of the audience and she was awesome. At one CMJ marathon (music business folks know how important this convention was) my ex took her around and while in the artist VIP section they bumped into my childhood heroes--Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of Kiss. A photo of Maggie with the rock gods sans make up was taken. I waited to finish this blog post because I wanted to include that photo. But between kids, life and the endless pursuit of finding the dreaded "Day Job" many an audience member at the New York Comedy Club told me not to quit, I didn't have the time to dig through my old photo albums and find the picture.
Although she never broke through to a larger audience in music or literature she was a tremendous talent and should have been the next Patti Smith. Maggie Estep is gone at the tender age of 50. She is gone. Her passing reminds me of times I lived on hope and promise. Times where artists worked toward dreams. And also that life is short. Even shorter now. And that's The Bitter Truth.