The last time I saw Kevin Foley I told him I loved him.
We were standing at Bunker’s a few Mondays ago, where a bunch of veteran Twin Cities rockers had gathered to play a benefit for their friend Kevin Hazlett, who is fighting a fast-losing battle with pancreatic cancer but who at that moment was on stage, baseball cap over his eyes and playing guitar with the X Boys, a band of gentlemen groovers that included Suburbs drummer Hugo Klaers, who, with a single tom slung around his neck, cut the sobering figure of the leader of Civil War-era fife-and-drum outfit.
I had just walked in the door and we grabbed each other, Kevin Foley and I did, instantly and affectionately, which is what we also memorably did the previous two times we saw each other. The first was at his brother Steve’s funeral on Labor Day weekend 2008, where, after a furtive hand-clasp and man-hug, Kevin immediately asked me about my life and my brothers. I shook my head and looked at my feet. Dude, we’re at your brother’s funeral.
We played catch-up. I told him and his sister Colleen about the last time I’d seen Steve — two weeks prior at the Lake of the Isles dog park, both of us sitting old-man style in lawn chairs, talking about life and love and rock, looking at the lake, watching the sun go down. Four months later as a tribute to Steve, Kevin joined Curtiss A’s John Lennon band at First Avenue for a heart-wrenching reading of The Beatles’ “In My Life.”
Curt and guitarist Steve Brantseg held Kevin’s hands to steady him as he sang this indestructible tune about the fragility of life and how we keep the goners alive in our hearts. When he got off stage he found his way to the middle of the dance floor, where I was standing with my brother Jay. I introduced the two Irish boys to more furtive other-brotherly love, which was comically cut short when Kevin asked, “Buy me a beer?” I turned on my heels to get him a Heineken and when I returned he hoisted the big green bottle toward the stage and heavens.
Kevin Foley died in his sleep last week. The other night at Bunker’s, he was one of the first people I saw when I walked in the room. He looked at me with a burst of recognition and joy that made me feel like he’d been waiting years to see me; as I discovered from his sister Jennifer’s tear-strewn eulogy at the packed Hopkins funeral home Monday evening, Kevin treated everyone this way. He came in with “the approach,” as Jennifer called it, in which he crouched and opened his arms to full wingspan, like a one-man grounds crew guiding the plane — you — into his chest.
Many of his old band mates were in attendance at the funeral, milling around photos of Kevin and Steve ripping it up on stages and motorcycles. The Jayhawks’ plaintive “All The Right Reasons” began the ceremony. Gini Dodds sang the Pretenders’ poignant “2000 Miles” like it was written for Kevin, and then she, Curt, and Brantseg reprised “In My Life” with a hush.
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all
As the trio left the altar area to muted applause, Curt said, “See ya, Kev.” I spent much of the rest of the grieving time and previous days trying to wrap my head around the mystery of sudden death. I talked to friends, who quoted scripture, poems, books, songs, personal experience. Some reminded me that pain is the natural result of knowing and loving people, others talked about having missed out on saying goodbye to a loved one before they died and the gulf of regret that creates.
More than anything, I told folks about the last time I saw Kevin. We didn’t know one another very well, or for very long, but when we saw each other that night, we said what was on our minds. In all of two minutes, I let it blurt about our connection, the Heinken, his brother, my brothers, the Hazlett brothers. He laughed and nodded and said how good it was to see everyone. At the funeral, Colleen said it was eerie, as if Kevin came to Bunker’s that night to say goodbye.
Which is what he did with me. As the bands and speakers wound down, he came and found me and we jinxed each other with farewells and “love you, man.”
So today I feel lucky. For two reasons. One, I realize yet again how important it is to tell the ones you love how you feel about them while you’ve got the chance. Two, I no longer fear death, because I know that whatever comes next, Kevin Foley will be waiting with the approach.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.