Pamela Windo 2014
A story of one woman’s creative, and more than just that, liberation and of one man’s eternal, and doomed, quest for living life to the full. A story of love.
In a better world, Gary Windo’s name would have been uttered by music cognoscenti in a deferential tone, and it is even here and now, it’s just those cognoscenti aren’t aplenty; but then, so much reverence could have made him laugh, as the late sax player had always had the respect of his peers and it was enough for him as long as he found pleasure in playing. That’s the impression you get from reading this book – having come to it after listening to the records with Gary on, of course, be it Windo’s own "Dogface" or classics like Robert Wyatt’s “Rock Bottom” – the impression that you knew him very well. And that’s one of its strengths, except, of course, it wasn’t you but Pamela, Gary’s wife for the best part of his life, who first met Windo in their early childhood and kept in touch with him until the end, even though the couple had separated a few years before that. She offers a singular perspective of his life, and hers, too, from Brighton to Woodstock, zooming in and out of domestic angle onto the larger stage, providing a familal background which explains many a detail such as to who was Ginkie, the inspiration behind one of the reedsman’s most memorable compositions; snapshots of the scene, including Roger Waters in the lyrics-writing process; or the mix of personal and artistic in the instances of karate excercises in the company of Paul Rodgers.
Yet for all the presence of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in this story, it’s not a “been there, done that” sort of account, but a painfully honest narrative of a soul-searching, creative development and breaking free from constraints of time, situation and received wisdom. Gary, according to Pam, always was a free spirit, though, even when he served time in American prison or served food in the navy, and one can imagine that cooking and performing emerged as another manifestation of Windo’s talent. Pam had her share of adventures, too, before conforming to conventional family life whence Gary, The Pied Piper, led her to what would amount to ultimate realization as a woman and as a musician; Windo nurtured a piano player and a composer in his wife to the extent of Pam becoming an inspiration for GONG’s Daevid Allen and a signee of former Dylan manager Albert Grossman. So while PINK FLOYD’s Nick Mason and other prominent figures grace the book’s pages, and appear on the mysterious "Steam Radio Tapes" on which a light is shed here, they do so not to steal spotlight or draw attention to the well-written memoir – not the first tome for Windo who authored a few music-unrelated ones previously – they were as significant a part of Pam and Gary’s timeline as the couple were of theirs, if only for a while, albeit it was a memorable while.
There’s a lot of poignant moments in there and a lot of adventures including Gary and the band stranded in Switzeland and having to hitchhike back to the UK, and Pam going to New York to get a visa for him as a unique musician. And there’s a lot of emotions, too, although multiple quotes from singers, writers and philosophers which pepper the text aren’t a mask for the feelings nor the demonstration of the author’s erudition but a sign of her sincerity: why look for better words when someone else already found them? That’s Pamela’s language anyway as is occasional jazz jargon haunting the narration even after all the years she spent away from the sounds preserved for ever in her heart. The feelings are never hidden here be it the reflection of the Windo family’s quotidian affairs or the still bright reports of concerts by CENTIPEDE, Carla Bley, Ginger Baker and the like. And that’s what makes this read so riveting – its naked affection, with no remorse if not without regret, and insecurity turned into strength. “He lived too fiercely in the present to be concerned about fame and fortune,” writes Pam about Gary who, one feels, she still loves, yet the same can be said about her. So the “him through me” expression offers much more than a mere layer of transparency and intimacy; it’s a continuation of something Gary started and Pam still carries on.