Adam Rado Remembered (1949-2021)

Dale Nickey:

 

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

Adam Rado passed on passed on March 15, 2021. He was many things. Composer, Educator, Husband, Athlete and Enlightened Atheist. He was also my best friend and the man I considered my brother.

I met Adam at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I was enrolled in a performance workshop for aspiring singers to develop stagecraft. Adam’s girlfriend Mikki was enrolled in the same class. Adam was there to provide piano accompaniment for Mikki. Adam and Mikki were the stars of the class right off. Adam in particular, seemed to have a comfort level with live performance none of the other students possessed. So, it was surprising when both Mikki and Adam walked over to me during a tea break to complement me on the song I presented on the first night. They seemed like nice people and Mikki had a world class voice that had a soulful vintage quality far advanced from the other neophytes in our class

A few weeks later I had my first meaningful conversation with Adam at the front of Baxter’s guitar shop in Santa Monica where Mikki and I were attending yet another workshop. It seems our struggling Hockey club (The Los Angeles Kings) had acquired budding superstar Marcel Dionne. Adam was the only other human being in my world that knew or cared. Being a hockey fan in LA in the early 70’s was like being a member of a secret society, so we bonded immediately. It also turned out he was a long-haired, authentic hippy Rock musician from the 60’s who composed Sci-Fi Rock Operas, smoked dope and doubted the existence of God. Out of the blue, he invited me to come over to his house to jam. There was a lot of jamming in those days. His invitation course-corrected my life in ways I still struggle to quantify.

The jam sessions at Adam’s were my personal School of Rock. Adam was six years my senior and had ‘been there and done that’ in the 60’s – playing in clubs, making records and chasing Rock and Roll ghost ship. On a dime he had repurposed himself from a boiler-room rock drummer to Hungarian Synth Wizard composing a four-part, deep space rock opera called Time Traveler; a project that was years in the making. He had a Hammond Organ and a Moog synthesizer; instruments I had never seen or touched in person.

Adam was a natural teacher, like it was encoded in his DNA. Even when dispensing instructions, he made you feel like loyal lieutenant rather than an acolyte. I learned the etiquette of improvisation and Adam would use Hockey analogies to guide my muse when the language of music failed. There were always gentle, witty, talented souls in attendance who reflected human traits that Adam admired. Good people, good times and weed. Lots of weed.

Adam’s life was Idyllic. Alone on his private hilltop abode in Laurel Canyon, looking Down on the sprawling megalopolis of Los Angeles. Adam’s view was of the West Side. Frank Zappa lived close by and even the mighty Zappa lived in the shadows below the horizon of Adam’s Mount Olympus enclave. The real world intruded via his job with the LACSD as a substitute teacher. Adam latter thanked his dad for insisting Adam stay in school and earn his Bachelor’s degree at UCLA. That degree was the gateway to rewarding and consequential career as an educator that positively affected thousands of lives.

Not only did Adam and I share a love of Hockey. Adam actually played hockey. There is youth hockey and amateur leagues in every town and hamlet these days. However, In the early 70’s meeting someone who played hockey in Southern California was like spotting a white tiger. The fact that Adam and his girlfriend Mikki both played hockey and wanted me to join their pick-up league was beyond human comprehension.

So, I played Hockey with Adam at the fabled Iceland rink in Van Nuys Ca. Next to the police station. Though I would never graduate from Figure to Hockey skates, I developed quickly and was a fast skater. Thanks to Adam, I was now able to appreciate the sport on a deeper level. I was able to experience the joy of roofing a backhander, I jostled with pretty girls for pucks along the boards and had my face cut with a high stick. Adam said the cut looked good on me.

Eventually, Adam wanted to play real Hockey. The scrums got rougher, and broken body parts became a real possibility. Adam followed his Hockey Muse to the end of his life. I wish I could have taken that journey with him. But, he had his life sorted out and mine had not yet gained altitude.

In 1977 I fled LA. To live in northern California. I didn’t want to leave my friends behind. But the decision to leave was urgent. Adam didn’t let our friendship die on the vine. He invited himself up to Petaluma to stay at my place for a couple of days. Adam stayed in my funky but quaint apartment that occupied the top floor of a Victorian styled house that was common to the region. I remember jamming with Adam happily one perfectly sunny afternoon in a cloud of cannabis. Me on bass and him playing our little Roland synthesizer.

The gravitational pull of Los Angeles was strong and forced me to move back. I reconnected with Adam. Punk was the new thing so we started checking out punk clubs like Club 88, Filthy Mc Nasty’s; clubs I would eventually start playing in a few months’ time.

After years working on Time Traveler, he finally abandoned the project and started working on a new musical concept called The Future. Adam and his father collaborated on a killer logo morphing a musical quarter note into an intergalactic spaceship. In life he was always looking to the future and a civilization more evolved than this earthly one. Allegories to his migration from East Europe to a better land and future in America are easy to draw.

I was neither playing music or hockey with Adam but that didn’t matter. I was supportive and enthusiastic about his new pursuits, and he came to my gigs often with his longtime running buddy (and former bandmate) Rick Reeder in tow.

Adam and Mikki broke up sadly. But Adam was not one to discard people or indulge in toxic jealousy. Mikki remained as friend and musical collaborator. A long procession of girlfriends followed. Adam was a confirmed serial monogamist. The jams of our youth gradually gave way to poolside parties and barbecues. I still remember mining the depths of his Vietnam era icebox in his back yard behind his house; where I could always find an orphan beer or hot-dog condiments of dubious vintage.

Sometime during the early 80’s Adam and I drifted apart for a couple of years. We were both busy. He had started a new band – Humanoids on Parade. My band was named People in Motion. It was eerie that we still maintained a cosmic connection as our band-names described an identical human landscape in a three-word cadence.

I called and left lots of messages with hockey slogans. Eventually we reconnected. He was now a top instructor at Dick Grove music. He was teaching keyboards from a synthesizer player’s viewpoint. He looked healthy and hip. He had also developed an admiration of Asian culture. By further coincidence, I had as well.

Mikki was still singing with Adam in his new band and became a bonified front woman along with Tina Gullickson. Her future husband Chris was welcomed into the collective as a brother with open arms by Adam. ABBA meets The Tubes with a SoCal twist. They had tunes, beats and looked amazing. The played the clubs and worked hard. Still not sure why they weren’t huge. As the 80’s lurched on, both our bands folded.

After the disappointment of HOP Adam started to withdraw from music. He played Hockey and traveled. My band fizzled as well. But I still flogged away putting out three albums on my own vanity label before bidding the dream adieu. Adam and I still did stuff together. I still went over to the Bulwer house a lot and watched hockey with him and smoked a lot of dope. Between periods we would steel outside in the night to shoot baskets in his driveway until play resumed. Sometimes we listened to records, got stoned and laughed. It was a wonderful routine that became a constant in my life.

I went through a bad marriage and a difficult divorce at the dawn of the new century (a union that began on the balcony at Bulwer). Adam invited me over to hang out. When I got there, I saw Adam had assembled friends Lance, Howard and Rick. Adam had organized a little divorce party. The talk was witty, the hot dogs were ancient, and the beer was cold. I felt better knowing someone out there cared.

Our life was always aligning. Or maybe Adam just set a good example. Adam was now teaching at UCLA to bright young people in the ESL program. It was a good fit. The students loved him as he channeled his creativity and passion into the curriculum and eventually would become administrator. So, when my District Supervisor at The Post Office asked me if I wanted to lead a team of classroom instructors to teach our new web-based Time and Attendance system, I said “sure, why not?” Maybe I couldn’t play hockey or convince Adam reboot his music career, but we could now join forces as educators against a government myopia that viewed teaching and creativity as mutually exclusive.

Life was different now. The century was new, and we were not. Adam crossed the 50-year threshold that I was hurtling toward. He was still looking for a heart of gold and I had found mine. However, this time Adam would follow my lead and find his life concluding love.

Renee was an administrator at the office and possessed a world conquering work ethic and saintly patience. As an up-and-coming Admin star, I knew an impact player when I saw one. We fell in love and would marry October 2006.

I called Adam and asked to him help me make a wedding video if he would be our guest and attend the wedding in Cambria California. He accepted and seemed enthused. Of course, his new girlfriend Eris Wang was invited to come as well.

Somehow, I had left out that fact that he was best man. He seemed surprised. I can’t imagine who he thought I would pick ahead of him.

Anyway, the wedding was great. An unsanctioned guerilla operation on the bluffs of Cambria overlooking the dramatic rocky coastline of California’s central coast. Adam stood next to me and handed me the ring I put on Renee’s finger sealing the covenant with yet another best friend. Eris stealthily ignored our Rabbi’s request for no videos and contributed dramatic shots that turned our humble home video into art. Adam signed as my witness and Eris helped me Velcro my yamlike on my head, insuring it would survive any wind event short of a Category 3 hurricane.

Then Adam had some news for me…

In the days following the wedding we would work on the video. I swear Adam put as much love into the video as I did. We collaborated, storyboarded, and came up with a stunning video. About this time, he told me that upon experiencing my wedding he realized he could commit to one women as well and asked Eris to marry him. His wedding would occur a mere sixty-two days after my mine and I would stand at his side as his best man. The wedding occurred on his outside deck at Bulwer, the mecca for so many life-changing events. Adam was saying hello to a new life and would soon be leaving Bulwer to pursue it.

Adam would leave his humble ivory tower atop Laurel Canyon for a fashionable high-rise condo on Wilshire’s West side, a stone’s throw from his work at UCLA. He seemed to adjust well. Walking to and from work often using public transportation to attend concerts at theaters and concert halls that dotted Wilshire. I remember the miracle of a 25 cent senior fare on an L.A. City bus to go see The Zombies with Adam at the Saban Theater. Meanwhile I left behind my life of cramped valley apartment living and moved in with Renee in Ventura County. Adam and I had flipped circumstance. He became the apartment dwelling urbanite, while I now lived in woodsy seclusion.

Adam’s 60th birthday party found Adam in robust health, revamping the ESL program at UCLA. New wife, new life. His father was still with us, 90 years old, alert and sitting with his son. Nice start to his sixth decade.

Then Adam got Cancer.

It was hard for him to accept at first, but soon he joined battle with his invisible companion. UCLA Medical did wonders pulling out every trick in the book to extend his life with cutting edge (sometimes experimental) therapeutics. Always there was Eris; giving Adam care and a reason to fight his cancer. He continued to play Hockey, visit with friends, travel, and pursue his career as ESL Coordinator at UCLA.

We remained closer than ever but saw each other less. However due to the miracles of facetime, texting, and social networks, we were in constant communication. I still made the pilgrimage from Ventura County to the West Side to watch hockey on TV or go see a live game or music event. As the visits dropped off, each one became more meaningful and goodbye hugs worked their way into our visits.

Adam had one more big surprise for me. He wanted to start playing music again.

I think for the first time in his life Adam started looking to the past instead of the future. The occasion was the 50th Anniversary of his old high school band Malibalavi (Yugoslavian for snot nosed little bandit). Luckily four original members still survived. The bass player Rick had died decades earlier. Since I was a bass player, knew Rick and was Adam’s best friend, I was given the honor of channeling Rick in live performance.

The invite couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was in the middle of navigating a family emergency. This was in June and the concert was to be in September. I told Adam I might not be able to participate. He was disappointed but understood and set about finding a replacement.

Thankfully, with six weeks left until the Reunion Concert circumstances allowed me to attend. I notified Adam I would be available. Adam was surprised and happy.

With one rehearsal and a soundcheck, Adam Rado and the surviving members of Malibalavi (Steve Hermann and Aleks Iilich) ambled onstage at The Jungle Room and did two sets of music from the soundtrack of our lives. Songs that harkened back to Adam’s days as the leader of the best band at Hollywood High School circa 1967. There was no better year or better place to be the best Rock Band. Eris set up a camera at the back of the hall and captured the gig for posterity and YouTube while Renee captured up close footage from the audience.

The gig was a big success. Me and Adam got to share our first-ever sweaty, post gig buzz. I wasn’t at the top of my game, but I did my job and didn’t embarrass myself. I told Adam that the gig felt special I just wanted to support him and his former bandmates. He said the night was special and was even more so because I was able to be there. He also told me I was the best bass player he ever played with. That buckled my knees. He never dished out praise lightly. I felt our friendship had achieved another layer of depth. Our final song “Last Time” by The Stones, was almost too poignant.

A week later we were still high from the success of the gig. I told Adam that I missed the band. He said he did too. Remarkably, a second reunion was scheduled commemorating the bands and musicians he associated with during his student days at UCLA. A year later we were back at The Jungle Room for a gig commemorating Champion Bear and his cover band, The Shit Band. This time I came better prepared and Adam’s friends Howard Sall and Bruce MacKay were added to the lineup. Adam expanded his role as drummer to include keyboards. The venue was crammed to capacity and beyond. My youngest son was in attendance and people actually flew in to attend. Me and Adam collaborated on an arrangement of ELP’s Lucky Man, And our performance brought down the house.

Science may still need to quantify the healing and restorative properties of music, but Adam seemed to thrive with the rediscovery of his muse. His energy for organization was boundless and a third Reunion was scheduled. This time we were going on the road to the home of Mikki and Chris in El Sobrante California – a few miles north of Oakland. Mikki was a longtime friend who had now ascended to the position of Matriarch of his adoptive family circle. We would celebrate Adam’s 70th Birthday and nearly a decade of survival with cancer. Mikki’s abode was spacious and had a surprisingly large outdoor stage and seating area. The Reunion had now become a “thing” that got bigger with each passing year. There was much revelry, wine, weed and dancing. Adam was happier than I had ever seen him since his diagnosis and played brilliantly. But the next day he was completely drained. I was in a state of exhaustion as well. During this period my mother was bedridden in my house and arranging for 24/7 care during our two-day sojourn was expensive and a logistical nightmare. However, with Renee’s help we pulled it off. I’m so grateful we did.

Now Adam was fully engaged with music to the point where he was practicing drums and keyboards at home; A state of affairs unimaginable for the last couple of decades. He was also collaborating with band mate Steve Hermann on a series of brilliant and devastating song parodies that eviscerated our (then current) dictator in chief. Having escaped the Russians in his youth, and knowing the perils of blind nationalism and Russian aggression, our (then) current climate was a little too much history repeating itself for Adam’s comfort.

Time marched on and yet another milestone was to be commemorated. Adam’s high school band mate and friend Steve Hermann was turning 70 a year after Adam. Yet another Reunion was scheduled for January 2020 in Redding California (Steve’s Home) at the ballroom of the Red Lion Inn.

Adam was fully engaged with music now and wanted to schedule rehearsals. Being a lifelong rehearsal junkie, I was happy to oblige. We found a posh studio in Northridge and started meeting regularly with a rotating cast of our expanding pool of musicians. The Hungarian synth wizard was back, and rehearsals were warm and productive. We really wanted Redding to be a great event.

By this time my mother had left home care and was in a long-term care facility with professional staff; and while the situation was sad, the stress on Renee and I had been greatly reduced. I prepped for the gig and maintained constant contact with Adam. The Reunion’s had now become our little franchise with friends and supporters growing in number. However, there was always the specter of inevitability. I this point I savored every gig, rehearsal, and social visit with Adam as a special occasion and confined finality to the back of my mind whenever possible,

The Redding Reunion was a huge success. I was staying at the Red Lion and overheard the front desk fielding a deluge of phone inquiries about the event. The hotel was a buzz of activity. This was the first time in my life that I performed as the hottest ticket in town. Nathan Banne (an original member of Malibalvi) was now a fixture in the group as singer. Each time I bumped into him in the lobby, he would drag me into a secluded corner to cram on our vocal harmonies. It was a wonderful time.

The band performed brilliantly that night, Adam (in particular) had his greatest drumming performance to date. The dance floor was crammed most of the night. You don’t pull that off without a great drummer. Our rehearsals paid off and we gave Steve a great birthday experience in his hometown in front of a packed house of friends, family and well-wishers. He seemed visibly touched.

I talked to Adam after arriving home and boldly stated that I though he and I were (in Hockey parlance) the number one and two stars of the gig. He agreed. The magic of music that we had experienced in our youth was again part of our lives. Adam’s UCLA retirement party was to occur in July 2020. We set about planning our fifth Reunion. We selected a venue, rehearsals were scheduled and we even started talking about going into the recording studio. Then Covid and the ides of March happened.

Little did I know that Redding would be last time Adam and I would talk face to face, play or hug . The next time I saw him alive was on his hospital in bed at home. Eyes, closed, out of pain and in dreamland never to return.

In the previous year, March 5, 2020 my mom died at age 94. It was meant to be I guess. 48 hours later her facility was shut down to visitors due to Covid. She would have died alone if she had lived longer. Covid was starting to take over the news and our consciousness. We had a rehearsal scheduled March 15 and had to “postpone” That’s the day the music died I guess. Adam passed on March 15, 2021; a year-to-the-day later. Everything is a cosmic convergence it seems.

No Covid didn’t take Adam, but I’m sure it aided and abetted his downward trajectory the last year of his life. The biological virus (coupled with the human virus that had shadowed our lives since 2016) resulted in a low-grade depression that affected Adam’s spirit and mine as well, I can only guess how the isolation and inertia depressed his immune system.

At the dawn of 2021 it was determined that Adam’s cancer had spread to his liver and Chemotherapy was the next option. Adam was still sharp and witty and walking on his treadmill at home to maintain his constitution. I told him he was the comeback kid and encouraged him to play his electronic drum kit for music therapy. At first the Chemo treatments instilled hope. He even walked home after the second session. Then somebody flicked a light switch and things started going wrong.

Adam started having breathing problems prior to his next Chemo session and he was hospitalized in ER and soon went home. The cause remained a mystery. Days later he went into ER again for the last time. The cancer had migrated to his lungs and he had days or perhaps weeks to live. He delivered the news to me via’ phone, saying “I am a dead man walking”.

Adam chose to forgo life extending therapies. He wanted to go home and pass in hospice care. We had two living Zoom memorials with Adam present and participating. They were beautiful but incredibly bittersweet experiences. Nobody said all the things they wanted to say, and after the second zoom party a third one was desired but never happened.

Adam went home on a Saturday night, Renee and I came to see him on Sunday. The day of rest. His friend and colleague Mark was there and luckily brought an acoustic guitar. We took turns playing songs and light classical pieces by his beside. Eris was fussing over him as usual and told us he was aware of our presence. I played him Tuesday Afternoon by the Moody Blues. I song I know he loved and had a light non-religious spirituality about it. We would return the next day.

Next morning Eris called and said she needed us to come as soon as possible. Adam’s time was close. We made the long trek from Thousand Oaks to West L.A. with remarkable ease. Monday afternoon and no traffic or rain. It’s as if the great cosmic architect had cleared a path for us. I saw him in bed motionless and silent. I went up to talk to him and kiss his forehead and realized he had already left. The rest of the room was processing his loss. I broke down in tears. At least, he was alive to me a few minutes longer than everyone else. I still feel my final farewell was incomplete.

We sat with Adam in repose for a couple hours after his passing. The room took on it’s own atmosphere of conviviality and memories. That’s how Adam would have wanted it. He was the host of one last party, one last friendly gathering. Only he chose to leave early; and I realized that throughout the entirety of his life, he never wore out his welcome. Not once.

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