It hit me like a ton of bricks, the text from my sister: “Chuck Brown died today.”
I sat silent for a moment, processing the words, wondering if they were true. Chuck had been the object of death rumors before. This could be another, I thought. Usually I would head to the Internet for to see what was posted, but this time, I didn’t. Somehow I knew. Instead, I called a friend, another big Chuck fan, to share the news and mourn.
I’m not a native Washingtonian, but that does not diminish my love for Chuck. Anyone who knows anything about go-go knows that bands come and go. You keep your favorite memories of them in your heart, but eventually you get over it.
Then there was Chuck. While the others came and went, he was always there, making music and giving us love as we loved him back. His death leaves a whole in our hearts that no tape or CD will ever be able to fill.
I first experienced Chuck when I was 7. In those days, my Dad played a steady rotation of James Brown, BT Express, and Chuck’s “Bustin’ Loose.” To this day, I can’t see or hear a train without thinking of BT Express and the chants of “I feel like bustin’ loose!” still resound in my mind.
There wasn’t much partying in my teens—my parents were concerned about violence in D.C. But as an adult, I found Chuck for myself. My Chuck fan friend and I went to see him one August 1998 night at the Bayou, when it wasn’t a movie theater. It was love at first sight between me and Chuck.
I met my future husband that night.
He always says that when our sons get older and ask how we met, he’ll say “Mommy was freakin’ Daddy at the go-go!”
After that, I caught up with Chuck anytime I could—at venues like Classics, Nation and the 9:30 Club. I was a true Chuck groupie–he was like a drug to me and I was addicted.
Eventually, I married, had kids and stopped going to the shows. My Chuck fan friend did the same.
We talked about him, even fantasizing about how we’d pay homage to him in death: We would walk behind the horse-drawn caisson bearing his body bawling our eyes out, like we were family. D.C. would shut down.
Thankfully, I did manage to make it to one last birthday show. I had made up my mind that I was going to tell him how much I appreciated him. That night, after the partying had stopped and lights were up, I stood with the others who just needed a piece of him to take home.
When it was my turn, I told Chuck that I loved him and that it was because of him that I have my family today. I extended my hand and he took it. “Oh, thank you,” he said, flashing that famous smile. I thought I would faint.
That was the last time I saw Chuck. As shows came and went, I kept meaning to go, thinking that I would always have the chance.
Then, I heard about his passing.
I feel sad, but also ashamed, like an ungrateful relative who means to visit an aging elder who helped them in a million ways, but never fit it into their schedule.
I’ll never forget you, Chuck. Maybe you didn’t know me personally, but you knew me.
And when you said, “Love you so much!” I know you really did.
Jones is a research supervisor, wife and mother who lives in Prince George’s County, Md.