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When death comes to town: Remembering Mike DeStefano, and how death changes the fan experience




It was just over eight weeks ago that Mike DeStefano came to Tampa Bay.

He was among five up-and-coming who performed Dec. 30 at Ruth Eckerd Hall as part of a Last Comic Standing tour. Things must have gone well for him, because he quickly booked a return to the area, March 31 to April 2 at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa. It wasn't a long trip; DeStefano spent much of his time in South Florida. But still, his brand was on the rise. These were shows worth catching.

Sadly, they'll never happen. News broke Monday that DeStefano died on March 6, reportedly of a heart attack. He had battled drugs for years, and was HIV-positive, but had turned his life around and begun counseling addicts. This excellent, and frank, December interview between DeStefano and Marc Maron is well worth a listen for a look into the comic's turbulent life. So is DeStefano's performance on The Moth.

A sudden death like this can alter the experience of fandom in unexpected ways. DeStefano was just here, it seemed, and he was about to come back. No doubt there were plenty of Tampa Bay fans looking forward to the show. Just as there were in 1995, when Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose two days before a gig at Jannus Landing. And in 1982, when Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash the day before a gig in Orlando.

Death can also retroactively alter the memory of a show, like DeStefano's gig at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Two weeks ago, blues legend Eddie Kirkland died following a gig in Dunedin. Punk singer Jay Reatard died five weeks after a blistering gig at Crowbar. It even happened at Side Splitters in 2010 -- comic Robert Schimmel performed there in March, then died in a car crash in September.

And then, death can also bring concertgoers closer together. In 2008, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band postponed several Florida gigs following the death of longtime keyboardist Danny Federici. The band's first show back was at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. From Sean Daly's review:


With house and stage lights dark, the band took the stage, familiar shadows walking to the well-worn spots they've worked for years. "This night is a special one," said the somber voice of the Boss. "So we'd like to start with something for Danny."

With that, a video tribute unspooled onscreen, as a recorded version of gentle acoustic homage Blood Brothers played. With a spotlight illuminating Danny's workplace, the band then launched into a crescendoing, cathartic Backstreets, with its notable refrain of "You swore we'd live forever."


It's not the kind of memory you want to take from a concert. But it's impossible to forget nonetheless.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 11:06am]


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