Life and Death in Aspen … An Odyssey

May 2012

Each time I go back to Aspen for a visit the conversations always go something like … Did you know that Billy married Greg's former wife Linda? Greg has been with Margie for more than 15 years now. He left Linda and she left Brad so that they could be together. Brad is the current jailer and was a city councilman. Then there is the past mayor of this magical hamlet who moved to live in Arizona when he termed out and gave up politics. Our favorite saloon owner Carson now lives with our good friend Greta in Sun Valley. Who would have thought that they would ever get together? Perhaps Carson fled when his former business partner landed in jail. How did he avoid it for all those years? And, Brian was just sprung from his three-year stint at Club Fed. For drugs – the incarcerations were always about drugs.

It was always like that for the first day or two. It was the 70s in review adding the embellishment that that comes with re-telling the same stories for two or three decades forward. Play it forward again and the names are usually the same. The stories get bigger, juicier and so much more intriguing. But this visit was different.

This time we came together to reinvent the “Big Chill”, mourn our friend’s passing, celebrate her life and relive the good times by recounting three decades past.

Mimi was the first of our close peer group who had passed away after suffering from a long terminal illness. We watched her wither away over time. Others had been taken by drug overdoses, car and motorcycle accidents – maybe from drunk driving, who knows? One was murdered. Most of them were taken before their time should have expired.

Some were revered like rock stars because they had bigger than life personalities. Every one, smart and fun loving, robbed of youth because they lived so far out on the edge. Then like flies they dropped out of the scene and off the planet. Lost forever to a sea, an abyss of drugs supported by a lifestyle that was anchored by sex and serious partying. This time the mourning felt different.

The Aspen odyssey had come to an end quite a while back. We all grew up and put the partying behind us. Some even have grown children the same ages that we were back then in the ‘me decade’ of the 70s. Sickness and death, raising children, mortgages, taxes and the present administration loom large in conversations. No one can stay up past nine. The days of recreational pharmaceutical assistance to extend the fun are gone. No one has even done any of that in over a decade now or maybe even longer. It’s like we abruptly changed our political persuasion from the extreme far left to the right in one huge, big sweeping swing.

The journey began in the late 60s and early 70s at a time in Aspen when we were going to cure the world. We were going to fix things. Mostly our own lives.

I remember so vividly the first time I saw the Colorado Rockies driving from the west through well-chiseled red and beige rock canyons. Sometimes flat on top, sometimes the tops were completely invisible. These great rock formations shot out of the ground thousands of feet reaching straight up to the sky.

We all arrived there well educated, many with multiple degrees, and we knew the difference. We wanted a freer, more FUN life than it appeared our parents had or than was apparent from whence we came. We didn't want to be choked in business suits and traffic to reach our daily income destinations. We wanted to be free. Free from responsibilities and monitoring by our parents, school officials, employers or anyone having anything to do with THE ESTABLISHMENT. We were in quest of a better quality of life. Instinctively we knew it was there in Aspen.

The mountains were the medium to freedom. We skied, walked, climbed and touched every inch of them. Most came to Aspen specifically to ski the legendary Aspen Mountain. And, to socialize at its base.

The ski bum was well and very much alive in Aspen through the 70s. It was a time when tourists dressed down to look like locals. It was a time when you knew everyone on the mountain because you knew everyone in town. It was an ebullient time. We wanted to live in a fun environment and we did have fun. We had jobs. Work and money were a necessity if we were to achieve the needed support for our fun habits. Skiing was one of those habits and the mountains were the reason for being . . . in Aspen.

We didn't care what the rest of the world felt or thought. We were safe in our cocoon. The valley was our cocoon. And, we were the movers and shakers there. We were truly bonded with each other and with the community. There was real community then. We celebrated the good times (on a daily basis) and mourned the tragic. We had fundraisers for people who had been hurt by bad times or injury. We planned our futures together

We were inspired, innocent, naïve. We were benevolent hedonists with senses of humor. We knew that every day the sun would come up and shine right down on us. It was our little kingdom.

Our only concerns were with the important issues at hand like electing Hunter Thompson for Pitkin County Sheriff. Memorizing every “Bill Greed, the land raper”, radio spot. Tuning into every episode of The Edge of Ajax. Going to every party where the Black Pearl played whether by invitation or not. And, attending every seasonal restaurant opening. Those were our priorities. Fun was our credo.

That spirit had transformed into a reflection of the past. It’s amazing that any of us survived the substance abuses, carelessness, irresponsibility and all that came in the package that we called “fun”. The adventure has not continued in quite the same way. It passed with time and death and it was now very much in the past.

The days of amplified sex, drugs and rock 'n roll resonating through the valley's walls whirling through like a tornado that couldn’t be stopped were gone and they’d been gone for a long, long time. The mourning of Mimi’s death had taken on a new dimension. It seemed almost so cliché how we were also mourning our youth, our friends that are no longer with us and all the fun we had. We were mourning an era that only existed in our memories. It was a time before reality.

We had washed all the stories, rinsed them, embellished them and turned them out as folklore in an album that has become the memento of our lives in this little magical mountain kingdom. Our memory of that experimental time will live on until the next friend passes.

PB

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