Memorial Celebration Tribute by Tom Langford
This tribute to Wes was presented by Tom Langford at a memorial celebration on February 4th, 2005.
After Wes finished touring with Duran Duran, he and I began to spend more regular time together playing music together. When we finished working on my last record, I gave it to him to listen to, and I remember not so much what he said, but the tone in his voice. It was so full of pride and excitement. There was such order and elegance in his playing. His playing was so expressive and such an extension of who he was. Paula told me once that when Wes was young, you could always tell how he was feeling when he played. Things that he could not express in his outer world could be explained easily on the four strings of his inner world. And so when he heard the record, he heard himself in a way that was so clear and so articulate and so weightless.
His playing was miraculous to me. We were doing weekly shows in San Pedro, and we all drove about an hour plus each way in traffic every Monday, rain or shine. I lugged Wes’ bass rig every week. You know that stuff weighs a ton. And each week we couldn’t wait to do it again because we got to sit five feet from his amp and each week he would blow us away with something amazing. He was incredible. And as great a player as he was, his humility and his grace and his compassion were greater. Perhaps it’s that he just made you feel as if you were just perfect as you are. Flaws and all, you were okay. He never had a judgmental thing to say. Oh, he could be critical, but never judgmental.
At one of these Monday gigs, we had a show that was not so hot, and I was taking the whole thing a little too seriously. I called Wes the following day to talk to him about it. I was totally ready for Wes to get on me about it, and instead, he said to me in classic gentle Wes style, “You know man, you’re just… you’re breaking my heart. Music should never, ever be anything but something you have fun doing.” So he says, “I have a deal for you. I’m going to bring some stuffed animals down to our next gig. If I see you getting upset because you miss a line or a note, I am going to throw one at you. I’ll start with a small one, and with each grimace or serious expression that I see, I will progressively reach for larger and larger critters, culminating with a complete meltdown with Bi-polar bear hitting you in the back of the head…. Deal?” Needless to say, Wes never threw any fur and I have never stepped on stage without Wes’ mandate for a sense of humor.
That quiet sense of humor could sometimes mask the fighter in Wes. When I think of that intensity that Wes carried, I think of his passion for cycling. When he and I rode together, I was astonished at how fast he could ride. It was like he had a gear that a lot of good riders never know. I mean, he flew. Sometimes I think the world and life and gravity just pulled so hard on his spirit that everything felt heavy. When he rode, those chains were for a moment loosened and he could move through the world the way he wanted to. He was free. For some, the physical demands of one hundred mile rides would be unthinkable. For Wes, they were oxygen. Tuna Canyon was a hill that he battled over and over and over. When he finally made it to the top, he said it was a feeling unlike anything he had ever felt before. “So that’s your life, right? Any hill, any mountain, doesn’t matter?” He said, “Yeah. That’s it.”
Look around here, Wes. Look at this room. Look at the tears and the smiles. Your life. Your people. Your giant compassion and quiet wisdom are shining forever like a million stars in the darkest sky. This is not goodbye. I am right here with you. I will keep my eyes and my ears to the ground waiting to hear back from you. There are more songs to write. Send me a melody and send it soon. I am listening. I will always be listening.