Sunday, September 21, 2008

William Raymond Peitsch, 1962-2007

It's been a year since Bill Peitsch split from this mortal coil. He was the most astounding person I'd ever met - smart, fun, irreverent as hell and intensely generous to his friends. He loved turning them on to music, books, people and to escapades that no one else would have thought up.

I met Bill in 1983, my freshman year at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. With a toothy grin he immediately pointed out to me that he was offered a scholarship to study engineering at the university without ever having graduated high school. Never much for doing things people expected him to, he didn't bother to finish his senior year of college either. His cabinets were filled exclusively with Rice-A-Roni that his mother had sent him. "The San Francisco Treat" he would say, holding the box up to next to his face as if it needed a mocking endorsement before he opened it and dumped it into a skillet. And he drove an orange Ford Pinto, the car that would blow up if hit from behind.

Bill showed me a lot of new things about the town where I'd lived my whole life. Climbing up to the roof of the tallest building on a rusty fire escape to take a look around, going into a church at midnight to play the pipe organ, hanging out with Rooster, the belligerent double amputee who'd lost his arms while drunk at the lumber mill. All the work of Bill. He had the same attitude when he was in his native Detroit or in New York City. He owned the place and would be happy to show you around.

He was especially fond of one of his Tuscaloosa neighbors, Charles Swain, a paranoid schizophrenic who'd been given a community placement at a house in the student ghetto. Charles had a yellow Cadillac that he wasn't allowed to drive, three refrigerators, a couple of guitars and a drum set. Bill knew the words to all the the songs Charles had written and Bill was the only person ever allowed to play (or even touch) his drums. Another of his neighbors, a woman with young kids, was at her front window one evening, fighting with a man who was smashing his fists on her door and screaming threats. She told him to leave, which he didn't. "Do you want me to call the cops?" Bill yelled across the street. She nodded yes and he did. "Watch, it'll take them an hour to get here", he said disgustedly. It did take about an hour but the man decided to leave shortly after Bill's intervention. Bill then sat on his stoop watching her house until the police got there.

Bill spent the later half of his life living in New York City, playing drums and singing in rock and roll bands including the Church Keys and Purple Wizard, and generally making himself a legend in his own time. You can find some stories from that part of his life on Jim Marshall's The Hound Blog. Bill's dear friend from childhood on, Dan Rose, has posted an extensive memorial page on his Wayne County Ramblin' site. Dan's memorial has photographs from throughout Bill's life, including some of his wife Andrea and their children Wendy Jean and Billy Ray Jr.

The photo above was taken by Heidi Machen in 1983.

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