You sit down to write something poignant – or what you seem poignant – about a topic and then life hits you. The planned topic doesn’t fucking matter right now. Along with countless others, my heart aches.
Allow me a moment to talk to you about my friend, the amazing Steve Marshall.
Steve Marshall’s friends list was wide and varied. Certainly, Claudia and all the stylists at International Hairways in Crystal Lake were among them, but the customers who went in to get their haircut were too. Occasionally I’d hear a customer exclaim to him “Oh, I didn’t know you did comedy.” Didn’t know? It was all over the place, just like Steve.
He had his comedy friends, those of us who’d dare travel with him to various gigs from The Atlantic in Chicago to far-flung exotic places like Janesville and Rockford. “Dare travel” is purposefully placed. Most of time, Steve would drive. Not that any of us really wanted him to drive, he had to drive. Steve had a bazillion props to bring. A prop comic is like a drummer – no one wants to schlep their stuff into their car and haul it around. Therefore, the prop comic becomes the driver.
Rules of the road, for the most part, were adhered to but they were sometimes stretched – as a Brit his driving could sometimes be challenging for the passengers (as Michael Wasz once stated “we’re just fortunate he’s on the right side of the road”). Once you got to your destination, you briefly became his roadie. “Grab that violin if you don’t mind there, Rick… and the painting… and that bag of Elvis clothes… and…” you get the picture.
Despite his occasional ‘unique’ way of driving, it’s indescribable how much joy it was to be in a car with him on trips to any comedic event. As we drove the back roads avoiding raccoons, deer and Christians (FYI there are a lot of people with weird-ass homemade crosses parked in cornfields in Northern Illinois and some of them glow) we’d come up with routines, talk about our families and how we cared for our kids, make fun of people, and try to figure out what in the hell was wrong with the Tottenham Hotspur.
Oh, the Premier League and his Tottenham Hotspur. He had a lot of Premier League pals, those of us who were enticed by his charm to follow the Hotspur as well as some who played on the pitch with him. He loved the Hotspur and let everyone know it. Always the life of any party, Steve would bring a halftime gift and give whatever Hotspur paraphernalia he had on him at the time. Could be a child’s T-shirt given to a fully grown adult; could be a fragile LED-lit glass block given to a small child. Didn’t matter, it was the enthusiasm in which he did it that lured us all to follow Steve, the pied piper of the hard luck Hotspur.
I moved away from Illinois and Steve a couple years ago, but we never stopped being friends. We’d text (or call on occasion) about comedy, stand-up, Tottenham, or whatever else came up in his mind… or his ass. A butt-dial was not uncommon.
Of course it wasn’t. Technology was not something he embraced. Steve was great at putting together an event – as a wedding DJ; host of a comedy showcase or open mic; leader of an overall entertainment soiree complete with a band normally led by the talented Collin Berg. Steve did it so many times at places like the Atlantic, but technology? Not a fan. Why would he it? He had these big-ass speakers he’d bring into every event, and they worked great. There was no need to use the stereo system the venue had when you could carry in 100 pounds of speaker and its stand, right?
He and I briefly ran an open mic at Ethereal Confections in Woodstock until COVID shut it down. Our first night he said me “help me get these speakers up the stairs.”
“They have a sound system.”
“But I need this.”
“It’s Bluetooth. You have a smartphone.”
“Their Bluetooth will be tricky for me.”
“OK. Fine. Jesus H.”
We hauled them up the stairs. While he was setting up his speakers, I asked him for his phone, got the Bluetooth hooked up and showed him. “Look, now it’s all set up. Bowie will come through as loud as you want it (he LOVED David Bowie) and we don’t need your speakers.”
OF COURSE, their sound system wasn’t working well at all. He looks at me and says, “I told you their Bluetooth would be tricky.”
He was the master of scissors who could cut up anyone with his over-arching sense of what was funny. He was one of the most generous people I have ever known, welcoming you into any social situation – including telling you at the last minute you were doing a set (10 minutes would be good. Yeah… ok.) Steve Marshall is a person you couldn’t help but love. In return he loved his wife Cheryl, girls Fiona and Zoe and many others.
I feel like I’m rambling at this point, but with Steve rambling was very easy to do so it’s fine. No matter what circumstance one may have ended up with him in, it always came out fine and generally funny. One time he was an emcee at an event, a trivia contest at a Catholic school function. He called me up and asked me to fill a spot on a team. You couldn’t say no to Steve, so I did. Here I was with people I just met. Most of the teams had some sort of religious names like “the Holy Rollers”, “The Resurrection 8” stuff like that. I’ll never forget his face light up when the team I was on won and he had to announce our team as the winner. I had named the team “Suck It Trebek” which is now engraved on the winning trophy for all eternity.
He gave us all a good lesson – life is about living. Live your life to the fullest. You’re not meant to come out clean. Jump out of a plane. Go see elephants playing polo. Ride a mustang. Ride in a mustang. Ride in a topless mustang. Ride topless in a topless mustang. For fuck’s sake, get out from under your own shadow and live… and don’t forget to tell people you love them.
He died Thursday night, December 15th, of a heart attack. I feel extremely privileged to ever get to know him and I know a lot of people feel the same way. I will miss him forever and always.
Bless you Steve Marshall.
Please take it away David Bowie… and take care of him for us.