Ode to Stevie the Great, our guru and our friend

— Photo from Jim Meade

Steve Chalmers as pictured in the Guilderland High School yearbook, Class of 1962.

To the Editor:

Stevie the Great. I don’t even know where to start. “Sketches of Spain” with Miles Davis. Jazz that lilted and bent and paused and hypnotized. That was a new frontier for me.

You, Stevie, led us all there. You were, proudly, a beatnik and a beatnik lover. Alan Ginsburg. Jack Kerouac. William Burroughs. I think, too, you introduced us to Ray Charles. “You don’t know me.” Great song. You expanded our horizons.

The rest of us went wherever we went to college or wherever into the armed services or business. You, Stevie, went to Bard. OMG. You just traveled the frontiers of the mind, back when nobody smoked pot or had any clue where to get it.

And, well, Stevie’s moving on in the journey, a shining ray of light and wisdom, a guru, a leader.

I remember your winning speech in the speech composition senior year. You won. Bryce came in second. I don’t know how I even came in third. You Altamont guys walked on a different turf from me and most of my friends.

You and Bryce Butler and Roger Keenholts and a little John Marion and Alan Wais. You were the intellectuals of the class. Your dads read The New Yorker and voted for Stevenson. The rest of us had Reader’s Digest around the house and voted for Eisenhower.

Stevie the great. You’re moving on, is all. I know that. We’ve even talked about this very thing — the soul and passing on. You told me that it’s much harder to communicate from that side than to reach that side from here.

So, you’re hearing your classmates. We love you, man. You know that swirling, jazz-fueled, disaffected, existentialist, boundary-breaking world that gradually unfurled in the sixties. You were at the forefront already.

So, one memory. A few of us were in French’s Hollow in my mom’s 1962 Chevrolet Impala Sports Coupe. You and Roger were in the back. Somebody like Dave Fulenwider was next to me in the front. 

We decided to serenade a parked Pontiac with our much-loved “Took my girl to the baseball game” song. Maybe the guy in that car was a returning vet or something, because he started up and chased us through the Hollow.

I was driving, and I knew he’d punch me in the face. And that would have hurt. I wished that Mickey was in the car, because he would have made the guy pay.

But he wasn’t. However, you guys were actually the best ones to have there. “Turn down there.” “Kill the lights,” and the guy went roaring off into the night, harmless. You were smart and clever and knowing and ahead of the curve.

Dear Stevie. What a friend! Once I made a disparaging remark about a lady who pulled out in front of us on the road. You said, “Oh, no, she just doesn’t have her false teeth in.”

The rest of us loved to dance, but you became a dance instructor and taught everyone to dance. I remember the reunion where you monopolized the girls, all lining up to dance with you. “Hey, Stevie, what about the rest of us?” But we couldn’t dance like you.

One year you couldn’t come to the reunion, so you stole the show with the comment you sent in. “This one is for all the girls in the Class of 1962.” Great one, Stevie.

Intellectual. So tolerant with the rest of us. A great teacher. A wonderful friend. Stevie, you’ve moved on, and maybe it’s hard for you from there to get word through to us, but I’m sure you can hear our collective voice coming through loud and clear.

Or, in the words of one of the artists you introduced us to, Ray Charles “Unchain my heart.” You unchained our hearts. You elevated us. We love you, baby, and, even though we can’t hear your answer, we know you hear us. And we know you love us, too.

Jim Meade

Los Angeles

Editor’s note: Stephen H. Chalmers, who was born on April 17, 1944 and grew up in Altamont, died in Boulder, Colorado on Sept. 25, 2020.

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