Two weeks ago, we heard the news that Nancy Tannenbaum
had died. Nancy was a bandmate
of my husband's nearly a decade ago, in a band called Whitey Gomez, but in recent years she'd been living in New York, and we hadn't seen her or heard from her much in quite a while.
Despite that, I thought of her fairly often. Whitey Gomez was only together for a couple of years, but there are so many stories about Nancy that we still tell...so many things she did or said that were utterly, unforgettably her. The time she told a fellow performer--a puffed-up local rocker whose music and attitude she loathed--that his set had been so good she wanted to give him a blow job right then and there. The time a massive, clueless oaf stood in front of her in a club, blocking her view of the stage, and--rather than take him to task--Nancy just laid her head softly on his back until he got creeped
out and moved away. The time she spat obscenities at the bartender in a backwater Oregon strip bar because he tried to stop her from coming in to use the bathroom. Never mind that if a fight broke out her male bandmates
were going to have to take the punches. Nancy had to pee.
Nancy was a unique combination of fierce and fragile. A little fireplug of a gal, with a go-for-broke guitar style and a penchant for fast motorcycles. In an online personals ad, searching for romance, she described herself as "kike dyke on bike." That was Nancy.
She couldn't have been more than 5'2", but she had huge talent. Hunched over her guitar, with her face screwed tight as if she were trying to get the lid off a particularly sticky jar, she'd wring out twangy honky-tonk
riffs and blistering, surfy
runs. And when the song was over and people clapped and cheered, she'd look up, delighted and surprised, as if she'd finally opened the jar and springy fabric snakes had popped out.
On the other hand, she had a volcanic temper--explosive, white hot and unpredictable. It cost her jobs, bands and friendships, that temper, and I always wondered if that's what it was supposed to do. Test the connections. Sever the weak ties before she depended on them and they let her down. Or the other way around, maybe. She once confided in me her fear that the band was going to dump her and walk away. I told her, "They won't walk away unless you push them away, Nancy." She stared at her shoes, glumly, as if that were a foregone conclusion.
I don't know that I've ever met anyone who wanted to be loved as desperately as Nancy did, or who seemed as convinced she wasn't lovable. And, yet, lovable she was. She was howlingly
funny, in an endearing, off-kilter way, and so much smarter than she let anyone give her credit for. Joy could overtake her as quickly and completely as anger. She had survived some hard living. She loved her friends. She lived for music.
The day she died, she was driving her brand new red Ducati
through the streets of Manhattan. She died because she swerved to avoid hitting a jaywalker. Because of her decision, he ended up with only a head injury and a broken leg. She was thrown and died on the way to the hospital.
Fierce and fragile.
That was Nancy.