On nine one one, while the
whole of America froze in fear and shock from the final acts of those true
believers, Larry Kegan wasn't able to get his tracheotomy suctioned; he couldn't
breathe. The lack of oxygen caused him to have a heart attack and he was gone
before José came out of the Seven Eleven with the batteries. Not one
news report announced that nine one one was the day Kegan returned to his
If he could have stood up he would have been tall, and he wasn't any wider than a beer truck. It always looked like the wheelchair had two flat tires and he was riding on the rims because of all that weight.
Larry hated being overweight, and was not heavy until late in life when his organs went more and more haywire and they had to keep adding machines to keep him alive. He never saw anything wrong with himself, just a broken body and some bad luck. He used to say, "If I was on my feet I would never be fat." So his friends became extensions of his arms and legs and tried to stay out of the way.
He never brought his Dylan connection up except if you knew. Sometimes he'd mention "Bob," with a grin. Kegan always put an emphatic spin on the "Bob," he'd open his eyes real wide, look dead at you, slowly shaking his head, and smile like that cat outta Alice in Wonderland. The tone of his voice and smile said he was telling some kind of secret, important, outside joke. I never saw anyone put so much English on a name.
Larry knew he was mortal and that quads don't tend to live as long. He would always say, "If I can just make it one more year..." "One more year" was his mantra.
Geno LaFond wrote and played the guitar with him, always said "we," also traveled on tour with "Bob," was with Larry a long time, but Larry always took most of the spotlight. They traveled and toured once to several times a year for fifteen years. "Sometimes I would fly out and meet up with them, hang for a few days and then fly home," Geno says. "Larry would go for weeks sometimes and different people would meet up with them and help him. First time for me was 1975 the Rolling Thunder Tour Incredible!!"
The name of Kegan's and Geno's band, The Mere Mortals, came up when Geno first met Bob. "Larry and I laughed that even Bob was mortal, although maybe we were a bit more so."
When The Mere Mortals played, Kegan had the hardest time saying "Bob's" name. Instead he would say, "Here's a song by a friend of mine."
On the wall over Larry's bed there were snapshots: "Bob," Kegan, and Louis Kemp at 13 and again at 50, three boyhood buddies who kept in contact their whole lives. There was the Bridge Concert poster featuring Neil Young, Paul Simon's wife Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, Cheech Marin, Geno and Kegan framed and leaning on the top of a dresser.
There was a snapshot of Kegan and Muddy Waters. And of course the photo of Kegan with Geno, his writing and playing partner, and all the Bridge Concert performers that year. Neil Young throws The Bridge Concert every year to raise money for his two disabled kids' school. The Mere Mortals had played that one a couple of times, as they had played front act for "Bob," Neil Young, and a who's who of some of the biggest names in music.
It's like the old joke where the Pope comes out with Kegan at St. Peter's Square, huge crowds cheering. Somebody pulls your coat and asks "Who's the guy with Larry Kegan?"
He traveled in hip circles from his era. Neil Young, Scarlet Rivera, Kinky Friedman, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Kris Kristofferson, Rick Danko, Jackson Browne, and local blues and folkie players Willie Murphy, Paul Metsa, Larry Long were pals.
When somebody dies especially shortly afterward they are usually deified. Wasn't it Mark Twain (maybe it was Garrison Keillor) who said, "They say such nice things about you at your funeral. What a shame to know I'm going to miss mine by only a few days."
So, let's get real. Larry was a hip, talented guy, but only a human with all the failings that come with the territory; he was a Mere Mortal. Take for example this: if you're a high quad, like Larry was, you've got to get someone to brush your teeth, feed you, wipe your ass or it don't get done. Let's say it nicely: Larry was skillful at "motivating" people. He was among the best at playing the players. It wasn't always fun being on the receiving end of Kegan's motivations, but that's how he got his nose scratched.
The Mere Mortals performed together last fall at Easy Creek and it was one of his best, but things were changing. Kegan and Geno were not tied to each other as they had been for years. Kegan always took the spotlight, but Geno wanted more recognition for his role, and Kegan resented that. Kegan’s living situation changed when he and Carol bought a house together a few years ago, and he was not as accessible to his pals. She gave him something to live for and encouraged him to take better care of himself. He focused on Carol. He stopped saying "one more year..." When you believe you have only one more year you tend to take all kinds of chances. And, toward the end, Kegan had a few bouts in the hospital intensive care unit.
One time I went to the hospital and he didn't want me to leave but he couldn't stay awake for a whole sentence. I left after an hour. Larry wasn't feeling all that well, toward the end.
There was strain between Geno and Kegan that never erupted. I'd hear nasty behind-the-back comments from Kegan. About 3 A.M. one day after he died, I got a call from Carol, his P.S.S.O., Personal Sexual Significant Other, where she said it was over a song, "Just Because of Your Kiss." Kegan had tried to finish it with Geno and Tom Greenwald, but here the stories diverge. He did finish it with Dennis Morgan, a Nashville songwriter ("Sleepin Single in a Double Bed") with a wall full of gold records, originally from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota I’d read that as meaning Dennis finished it. Larry finally agreed that Geno and Tom had a part of the song, and it ended up that Dennis got half ownership and Larry, Tom & Geno split the other half.
That incident put a strain on Geno's and Larry's thirty-year friendship. The fact that Larry loved a woman and shared a house with her pushing sixty he was starting to settle down and that Geno was changing and wanted more recognition, meant that they needed to renegotiate their relationship. What would have happened is anybody's guess because Larry died first.
"There is no doubt I loved the guy and his strength of heart," LaFond says. "What a character he was. But he was not a saint. None of us are."
No question, Larry was not a saint, and I did love the guy, too; Larry Kegan was a man who was truly loved.
That doesn't mean he was easy. He'd look at me, seeking conciliation, and say, "We know, we’re BOTH difficult."
page 28-30 mouth magazine • we hold these truths