Steve Esmedina wrote his first story for the Reader in July 1973; his last story appeared in September 1994. He wrote about popular music and film, mostly in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Esmedina died on June 24, 2001.
In this issue, his closest associates remember him.
Drunk on 163
Blubbo, oh Blubbo, where do I begin? You’re dead, gone, laid out rotting in a casket somewhere in the ground; and if that’s just your body, your corpse, your shell, God, I hope so, because, surely, your mind, your spirit — glorious, wonderful, twisted, sad...the essence of Esmo, a nickname they say you hated, but you never told me — is still out there somewhere. And maybe if you’re not too busy making excuses with some Higher Power for your life, you are reading these words and chuckling and shaking your head like you used to do when something amused you.
And I did used to amuse you, didn’t I? We amused each other.
I missed your funeral because no one told me you were dead until a week later, but I’m kind of glad because I would have cried, and I don’t like to do that. I hate things that are beyond my control, and there’s nothing I can do to change the fact that I can never talk to you again, never hear your voice over the phone from the “ghetto,” as you liked to refer to the old house in Southeast you shared with your mother and older brother.
Hell, I just pulled out my old Rolodex and there you are: Steve Esmedina, 910 South 37th Street, San Diego, California 92113, (619) 262-1590. I’ll have to remember to scratch you from my Christmas card list. That was the only contact we had, that and an occasional phone call — the last one must have been two years ago — that brought back vivid memories of the old days when we “hung,” and you still sounded the same, you still were the same; it was I who had changed, but even though I married and had two boys and you stayed where you were — and as you were, so people tell me — deep inside we were still very, very much alike, Thomas K. Arnold and Blubbo. Long after we had ceased hanging out together, we still had the ability to amuse each other. But it was more than that — we were bound by mutual admiration and this very weird sense that we truly understood each other, as puzzling as we may have been to most anyone else.
Death at a young age is always doubly sad, and 47 is young, I don’t care what anyone says. Of course, you always predicted you would go early, and none of us doubted you because you had epilepsy, you didn’t take care of yourself, and by the way, Steve, you shouldn’t have doused yourself in that cheap cologne every time we went out. I can still smell it… Now, why do I bring that up? It’s funny how when someone dies, the memory brings out minutiae. We say publicly, “He was a great guy and a good friend,” but we think about cologne, or the time I passed out driving drunk along 163 in the old Mustang coming home from some party, and I woke up just in time to prevent a crash, but you never said a word, never even tried to wake me. You were along for the ride, ready to accept whatever might happen.
You were a great guy, and you were a good friend. In fact, you and I were best friends when I was at my craziest and you at your glory. I was 21, a late bloomer who was discovering the world and all its delicious vices. I had started my own magazine, Kicks, covering the San Diego rock scene. Suddenly I was hip, I was cool, DJs announced my name when I walked into a nightclub, and I loved it, I ate it up. I was reckless, I was wild, I was young. You, four years older, had established yourself as San Diego’s premier rock critic, writing a column each week in the Reader that everyone in our little world devoured. Many hated you, many admired you, all knew you.
I looked up to you. You were a brilliant writer, much better than I was, much better than I would ever be. You used words like a seamstress, stitching them into intricate, colorful patterns the rest of us could only marvel at. We were journalists; you were a poet. It was 1979, and I had just launched Kicks: San Diego’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine on a $7000 budget I had amassed by working as an usher at the stadium and the Sports Arena while attending San Diego State University. My life was music, and the magazine was styled after BAM magazine up in the Bay Area, a localized version of Rolling Stone. We made quite a splash when we first published in August, and at the end of the year the Reader named me one of San Diego’s 50 People to Watch in 1980.
I met a whole new class of people: Jim Mullin, Jim Holman, Howie Rosen, Neil Matthews, Paul Krueger, Jeannette DeWyze, and you, Blubbo. They were all quirky but seemed so much smarter than the other people I had known, so much more curious. They were interested, and that made them interesting.
I forgot how we first got together, but I remember vividly the nights we’d spend hanging out — you, me, and Mullin. You had your own pad then, in the old Wilson Apartments at the corner of Ninth and A, near the old El Cortez Hotel, and since you didn’t drive much — I think you had a car back then, an old American beater of undetermined make, but you were timid behind the wheel — I would always drive downtown to your house. You lived upstairs, Mullin lived downstairs, and we’d generally pile into his old Peugot headed for either the Skeleton Zebra Club in the old Douglass Hotel to see the Penetrators or the Rick Elias Band, or to the Spirit in Bay Park, across from Kelly’s Pet Hotel, run by fast-talking Jerry Herrera, loathed by many of the bands he booked for being cheap, but always a good friend to you and me.