Bill Chinnock (1948-2007): An Appreciation

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I owned it before Born To Run … before Darkness On The Edge Of Town. You’ve probably never heard of it. Heck, chances are you’re unfamiliar with the artist as well. Live at the Loft was my first Bill Chinnock album. That album is a part of a long chain of memories that came to an abrupt halt this past Friday when I discovered that Chinnock had taken his own life.

Bill Chinnock was a major player in the early Asbury Park scene. As Vini “Maddog” Lopez said, “Bill was the BOSS before Bruce.” Before moving to Maine in his early 20s, he played in a number of bands with future E-Streeters Lopez, Gary Tallent, Danny Federici, and David Sancious. Like Springsteen, Chinnock was discovered by John Hammond Sr. One listen to Chinnock’s Badlands record makes it clear what Hammond heard.

What was shocking to me about Chinnock’s death was not the surrounding details (a long battle with Lyme disease, the recent death of his mother), but the frightening speed at which all Chinnock-related memories flew through my stunned mind. It was a thread running through half a life, my life, compressed into a few seconds.

Yes, one minute I’m scanning for some concert information at a Southside Johnny message board and the announcement of Chinnock’s death sends me to: Michelle Pease (who we called “Gracie”), the girl who loaned me her copy of Live at the Loft … my bedroom stereo, with its plastic turntable resting atop a single wooden speaker cabinet (the cabinet was a leftover from a failed 8th grade woodshop project) … hearing “Something For Everybody” on local FM station WTOS (short for “top of Sugarloaf”) … playing Chinnock’s records Badlands and Dimestore Heroes over and over again in my UMaine dorm room (208 Somerset Hall) … the show at UMaine’s “Pit” with warmup acts Bebe Buell, and Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops (I still have the poster from that one) … another concert at a rock club called the “Show Ring” in Brewer, Maine (ever been to a club with a bouncer in the bathroom?) … the show I passed up on at Raoul’s in Portland (me and some buddies were on our way back from a one-day roadtrip/beer run to Bar Harbor; after twelve hours of driving, we were kind of worn out) … drooling over a copy of his Blues album at the Record Connection in Waterville, Maine (it turned out to be just the jacket, no actual vinyl to be had) … finding a Dimestore Heroes CD on eBay long before it had generally been available in that format.

Most of the details of these events remain fresh in my mind, and the speed of the “mental review” was disorienting. It was also a reminder of my own mortality. Because artists who are important to us occupy seemingly fixed parts of our existence, it’s all the more upsetting when events reveal their true impermanence.

Later in the day I realized that, long after I’m gone, my love for this music will remain. So long Bill.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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