Beautiful Bert: Rest In Peace
Oh, how does one begin to write an obit about a guy who she first saw at Trash Fest some 15 years ago, unscheduled, walking into Club Garibaldi seeking out Voot Warnings (then the ringmaster) and saying, with all earnestness, "Hi. I'm Beautiful Bert and this is my band, the Crotch Crickets. We would like to know if we could play your Trash Fest."
"Are you ready to play NOW?" Voot asked.
"Shore 'nuff." And Voot motioned to the stage, they plugged in and within five minutes, a crowd that had thought they'd seen everything admitted that maybe not as every mouth in the room dropped to the floor. Within 10 minutes, Bert had dropped trou, and was proceeding to do things with a salami that Old Man Usinger had never envisioned.
But that's not what I hope everybody remembers about Bert, because as I have written and written and written about him, if you took away the salami (and other objects he ostensibly put up his butt -- get real, they only made it past the crack), if he lost 200 pounds, if he didn't TRY to be gross, you would still be left with a master punk showman, a commanding stage presence, and one of the best, tightest, hands down ass-kicking hardcore punk bands it was ever my pleasure to mosh to in the Great Lakes area.
Off stage, Bert was a good guy with a heart of gold. Yes, he could be a dick sometimes, but he wasn't the first person whose stage persona bled into his real life. And I've never met an entertainer who wasn't a dick sometimes. But really, Bert could actually be sweet. And as proof of that, know that not only did he influence a whole scene of great punksters in SE Wisconsin, but he was downright loved by that scene. I know of two bands that wrote songs about Beautiful Bert, and I'm sure there's more. I would venture to guess there's a lot of people who picked up guitars because of Beautiful Bert. (What they did with them after they picked them up is a different story, I'm sure.)
As word spreads, there will be a lot of people who will be at first, taken aback, and then admit they're not surprised. Bert lived hard and played hard, but he won't be forgotten. I've always believed that a person's life is defined by the stories he left, and Bert left enough stories for all of us to tell for many years to come. We'll laugh over many of the stories, and in his passing, we'll tell them with a note of sadness. And maybe we'll wonder in our own minds if some of those laughs were at his expense. We'll wonder if he knew how much he was appreciated. We'll wonder if he realized that after the initial shock, we all knew he was a great punk artist, going down as we suspect all great punks do.
Rest in peace, Bert. You will indeed be missed, but certainly not forgotten, and to a punk musician, that's the finest eulogy I can give.