Friday, February 19, 2010
The death of Doug Fieger, singer with The Knack and co-composer of one of the biggest pop songs of all time, My Sharona is a loss greater than the singular success of that song suggests.
Around the turn of the 80s no one could better signify the ebullience of youth and capture the effusive energy of lust better than Fieger. Moulded in the classic clean rock of the 1950s and blessed with brilliant musical ability and a timeless sense of melody and hook, Fieger was a leading light in the Detroit rock scene in 1970s, playing in the bands The Sunset Bombers and Sky. Eight years after moving to Los Angeles Fieger formed The Knack who would be regarded as ‘overnight sensations’ and ‘the new fab four’ by an adoring press, with Capitol Records’ promotional department sending the band into a stratosphere few artists would ever know.
At that time, late 1979, the band seemed unstoppable, blasting through the dying days of disco and spent energy of punk, revitalising rock and appealing in a way few bands had managed all decade. Their simple monochrome look perfectly matched their clean sound, a simplicity audiences loved, helped send Get The Knack, their multi million-selling début album, double platinum within months of its release. Subsequent albums revealed a rare combination of intensity and maturity but the rise of synth-pop left their more primal distillations high and dry. Kurt Cobain was not alone in recognising Fieger’s talents in the 1990s and his voice again rang out via the film Reality Bites in 1994. Unusually for a song released 15 years ago, My Sharona won new fans without a trace of irony.
Though music was his main talent, Fieger spent much time assisting others through substance abuse and addiction, devoting increasing amounts of time to this endeavour even while his own health was deteriorating. His penchant for cigarettes would later manifest as lung cancer in 2005, a diagnosis he thought he’d overcome until brain cancer was discovered in 2006.
His lust for life was bright and clear when we met before one of his last live performances in Melbourne having been clean, smoke free and sober for 25 years. He mentioned that his six-year spar with cancer hadn’t made him look at life differently but had given him ‘greater compassion for people who suffer’. Continuing to perform and tour right up until his recent decision to desist with chemotherapy, his undeniable yearning for the new thrills life offers was something he committed to music better than most.
His total belief in his own opinions and faith in his experiences were a tonic that helped a great many people in his time post-heyday. Rolling Stone once stated that Fieger’s lyrics had ‘appallingly bald opinions’ something he’d be unlikely to deny. His transplant to sunny LA only accentuated his Detroit-born intensity, a force he used for good. As he said of My Sharona: ‘Hey, it is what it is. I'm happy that I've had the success I've had because of it…it does what we wanted it to do and that is make people happy.’ Job done, and thank you.