I woke up to the awful news that Damo Suzuki is no longer with us.
Forgive a guy for a rambling, half-awake tribute but he was someone who touched a lot of lives.
Obviously, there is the cultural sense. Although he was very humble about his contributions to Can as their front man from 1970 to 1973, its a quantifiable fact that they were a different band when he was in them. Not that they didn’t still make great music after he left or before he joined, but the chemistry was extra special. Like he wasn’t just the singer, he was a catalyst.
Another undisputable fact is the wide-ranging influence of those 3.5 albums he made with Can back then. They pollinated ideas and were generously borrowed everywhere from hip-hop to techno, from indie rock to contemporary classical music. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs on it with a directory of examples.
However, far beyond the cultural force for change, Damo touched people’s lives for a much simpler reason. He was kind, generous and incredibly sweet. When he returned to music, he set out on a mission to travel the world with his microphone and to play every show with a new set of local musicians in the places he played. One of those ideas whose simplicity was equal to its genius.
He was someone who loved to meet people and though most of us were initially a bit star-struck and overwhelmed, his humility and his big-heartedness soon put you at ease. Not to mention his gentle, cheeky sense of humour. As a promoter, the first show I ever organized was Damo Suzuki at the old Parish Pump [I think it was temporarily renamed The Cornerhouse at the time] with an entirely local group of musicians. This was Friday 27th January 2006.
I put him on five times in all, twice in Huddersfield, three times in Hebden Bridge. He loved Hebden Bridge. The first time he played there was also the time his significant other Elke had decided to join him for a tour. We all sat up all night on cushions in my conservatory with the door open – drinking, smoking, chatting, laughing and listening to CDs.
Damo had asked me for advice on places to visit with Elke on their days off earlier in the tour and I’d said for Northern England the essentials were Whitby and the Lake District. I was so glad they’d taken my advice and I think that definitely gave me some kudos. We all warmed immediatley to Elke. She was funny, sweet and such a bright light. Exactly the sort of person you would expect Damo to share his life with. I can’t even imagine how she’s feeling now and send all my love to her.
There’s something that I don’t think other tributes to Damo are mentioning, though if you subscribed to his newsletter, you’ll know where I’m going with this. Once he came to visit us in Hebden Bridge on some off days, he went round the local organic stores and the farmers market to get all fresh ingredients and he cooked for us.
Anyone who experienced Damo’s cooking will tell you his work in the kitchen was every bit as remarkable as his contributions to music history. It was something he was very passionate about, although he was usually too polite to say anything against the food he encountered on his travels (except for YO! Sushi, that place really got his goat). He also loved to eat the local foods and always craved a good Sunday roast dinner when in town.
Visting Damo at home in 2015, it came as no surprise to find he lived wihin walking distance of a very well stocked organic store and he got the warm welcome of a very good customer. I think it is no exageration to say he could have been a very famous chef in an alternative career.
I’m sorry about the poor quality photos. My friend Michelle who made the excellent documentary “Energy: A Documentary About Damo Suzuki” has some amazing photos of the same shows but I wanted to make it more personal, even though I don’t have a fraction of her skills.
What are some other things people don’t mention about Damo? He was a huge film buff, with a massive DVD collection. When I visited, he showed us “The Legend of 1990”, a great film. He also introduced me to the local style of beer, Kölsch, which I’d never heard of before but when I emigrated a few months late, found out it is incredibly common at American craft breweries. He also had what appeared to be a complete collection of all the Osamu Tezuka manga. He’d originally wanted to be a manga artist himself.
The timing feels horrible. Can had only just announced their first live album to feature Damo, Paris 1973, out later this month. “Please Heat This Eventually” his 2007 collaboration with Omar Rodríguez-López had only just come to vinyl and Bandcamp. “Energy: A Documentary About Damo Suzuki” DVDs are imminent. I had vaguely mooted plans for something for the end of the year and was looking forward to more chats with him about the project. 2024 was meant to be all about Damo but not like this.
History will remember him as being part of a powerful creative force that changed the face of music. Those of us who met him, though, will remember something more. A man who spread kindness and good energy all across the world.