Could nothing have saved him?

Could nothing have saved him?

Ken Bristow
Ken Bristow

April 26th, 2010, 12:08 pm #1

In August 1931, Bix's mother Agatha and elder brother Bernie returned from new York to Davenport, having bought Bix's body back to their hometown for internment. One broadcaster has described how that was the moment the family had finally retrieved their son from the world of jazz. When considering his young age of 28, the grief of the family must have been exceptionally deep. On the one side they would have been extremely proud that their son had reached the very pinnacle musically on joining Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, the top dance band in the United States. Yet they must have been well aware of his involvement with the sometimes seedy side of the jazz world and the various characters occupying the bars and speakeasies flourishing everywhere in the big cities. At that time in the 1920's many middle class white families regarded jazz as, if not quite the devil's music, associated it with bordellos, black clubs and the gangster fraternity.
Today, most of us enjoy a drink. In the days of prohibition, it was no different. Booze was freely available for those who wished to inbibe. In Bix's time most musicians enjoyed the delights of liquor, even if not always the purest example of gin and bourbon, illegally distilled in bathtubs and other such dubious containers. So we are to assume that, just as most of his colleagues and fellow musicians were drinkers, there must have been something more in his case. Jazz historians have put Bix's early demise down to various reasons as to why he became addicted to the alcohol that would weaken his constitution and eventually be the cause of his early death. The very sad story of how it all ended is only too well known. Three days of suffering pneumonia together with the effects of delirium tremens, often alone in his downtown apartment, and of his fighting off non existent snakes on his bedroom wall and Mexicans armed with daggers hiding under his bed. His refusal to accept hospitalisation on the second day of his illness seems to indicate he had given up the will to carry on.
Yet, even as late as August 1931, could he have been saved from such a tragic early ending to his life? Were others responsible for his condition? Louis Armstrong insists it was Bix's friends who killed him. But, stated Louis, in a taped interview, "they could have told him to go home and get some sleep, but they didn't. They weren't his friends, they were hangers-on, and they killed him".
It's well known of Bix's intention to take a band to Europe, where he knew American jazz musicians were always made welcome. But nearly two years on from the Wall Street crash, there was no money for backing such a venture.
In Berman's film, bandleader Charlie Davis stated whenever he heard the name Bix Beiderbecke mentioned, his thoughts went back to that August, that at the time had they known of the trouble he was in, "we could have gone over there, taken him away from those surroundings, and cured him of his bad habits" ... (pause) "but we didn't". In the same film, Bix's sister states the family weren't even aware of the serious condition of her brother's health.
Having given the world, musically, all he had to give, had the time arrived, when he had lost the will to live, and no one or nothing could have saved him?
Reply
Share

David Apolloni
David Apolloni

April 26th, 2010, 6:01 pm #2

There were and are many opinions about how Bix become an alcoholic, and I don't want to delve into that. As for what could have saved him, Davis was no doubt well-intentioned, but I wonder what in the world he had in mind. He was just simply ignorant of the disease. Even with Alcoholics Anonymous, which did not exist until the mid-1930s or so, the chances of Bix' surviving his alcoholism would still be one in ten.

The best way to get an answer, however, would be to ask a scientist who studies alcoholism or who is involved in treating alcoholics. (I am not either of these.)
Reply
Share

Laura Demilio
Laura Demilio

April 26th, 2010, 7:54 pm #3

In August 1931, Bix's mother Agatha and elder brother Bernie returned from new York to Davenport, having bought Bix's body back to their hometown for internment. One broadcaster has described how that was the moment the family had finally retrieved their son from the world of jazz. When considering his young age of 28, the grief of the family must have been exceptionally deep. On the one side they would have been extremely proud that their son had reached the very pinnacle musically on joining Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, the top dance band in the United States. Yet they must have been well aware of his involvement with the sometimes seedy side of the jazz world and the various characters occupying the bars and speakeasies flourishing everywhere in the big cities. At that time in the 1920's many middle class white families regarded jazz as, if not quite the devil's music, associated it with bordellos, black clubs and the gangster fraternity.
Today, most of us enjoy a drink. In the days of prohibition, it was no different. Booze was freely available for those who wished to inbibe. In Bix's time most musicians enjoyed the delights of liquor, even if not always the purest example of gin and bourbon, illegally distilled in bathtubs and other such dubious containers. So we are to assume that, just as most of his colleagues and fellow musicians were drinkers, there must have been something more in his case. Jazz historians have put Bix's early demise down to various reasons as to why he became addicted to the alcohol that would weaken his constitution and eventually be the cause of his early death. The very sad story of how it all ended is only too well known. Three days of suffering pneumonia together with the effects of delirium tremens, often alone in his downtown apartment, and of his fighting off non existent snakes on his bedroom wall and Mexicans armed with daggers hiding under his bed. His refusal to accept hospitalisation on the second day of his illness seems to indicate he had given up the will to carry on.
Yet, even as late as August 1931, could he have been saved from such a tragic early ending to his life? Were others responsible for his condition? Louis Armstrong insists it was Bix's friends who killed him. But, stated Louis, in a taped interview, "they could have told him to go home and get some sleep, but they didn't. They weren't his friends, they were hangers-on, and they killed him".
It's well known of Bix's intention to take a band to Europe, where he knew American jazz musicians were always made welcome. But nearly two years on from the Wall Street crash, there was no money for backing such a venture.
In Berman's film, bandleader Charlie Davis stated whenever he heard the name Bix Beiderbecke mentioned, his thoughts went back to that August, that at the time had they known of the trouble he was in, "we could have gone over there, taken him away from those surroundings, and cured him of his bad habits" ... (pause) "but we didn't". In the same film, Bix's sister states the family weren't even aware of the serious condition of her brother's health.
Having given the world, musically, all he had to give, had the time arrived, when he had lost the will to live, and no one or nothing could have saved him?
Having caught the televised movie on the CBS network last night about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, I could not help but think if that sort of intervention might have saved Bix, if only the organization had been around in 1930 rather than starting in 1935.

Who is to say? Bix had the supporting love of his family, had been to one of the best known rehabilitative hospitals in the midwest in those days, struggled with himself to make his renunciation of alcohol stick. Even in those early days of AA, it was begnning to be recognized that it was a physical disease, not a weakness of character -- and, like Bix, Bill W. fell into the ugly grasp of substance abuse during the height of Prohibition, when bootleg liquor was adulterated with all sorts of dangerous, addictive, and poisonous chemicals anyway. The allergic reaction/physical propensity to drinking the burgeoning alcoholic had was intensified.

If the Dorseys and others of their vile ilk -- sorry, Dorsey lovers, but were these guys REALLY Bix's friends, or just mocking, jealous troublemakers? We've all read of the cruel stunts they pulled on him -- hadn't been rapping on Bix's hotel room and later apartment door with bottles; if other fellow sufferers had come by to walk him around the block and keep him drinking coffee until the bars closed, and ferretted out any hidden flasks of liquor in his room; if other troubled drinkers, whether fellow musicians/book lovers/friends, or just sympathetic acquaintences who were absolutely familiar with what he was going through -- if there had been AA or a group like it around to talk and comfort him and share his experience, could they have made a difference?

There's so much "what if" swirling around -- occasionally toasted on muggles instead of hefting a bottle, Bix very well could have survived like his pal Louis Armstrong; recognized and revered, finally dying "old and rich and happy". Two decades after Bix's time, some chronic alcoholics were being treated in clinics under carefully controlled circumstances with medical doses of LSD, with a 50% cure rate (not freaky acid trips, the likes of which were used as anti-hippie propaganda narratives to scare us as 1960's kids, but as psychiatric therapy). The outlawing of that drug ended the legal experimentation in the early 1950's. The strides made in medical care, reform, counseling, support groups, and rehab clinics all came tragically too late. And Bix could have suffered from deadly bronchial infection anyway -- no sulfa drugs or antibiotis were available in 1931 to combat the pneumonia -- it very well might have been the inevitability that he succumbed to this illness.

Between the shamed, guilty admittance of "We could have helped him. We could have," were the despairing cries of friends who did find out hours later or a day too late -- Tram, Hoagy -- "Why didn't he tell us? Why didn't he come to us for help?" -- their hurt rebukes to the girlfriends, who said it all happened so fast and they (Alice? Helen?) hadn't been around. And Red Nichols, returning the phone call Bix made to his wife a day too late -- who could have known the demise would be so rapid?

Laura
Reply
Share

hal smith
hal smith

April 26th, 2010, 9:27 pm #4

A few years latter these guys could have helped.http://www.cleanandsobernotdead.com/aah ... debby.html
Reply
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

April 27th, 2010, 11:09 am #5

Having caught the televised movie on the CBS network last night about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, I could not help but think if that sort of intervention might have saved Bix, if only the organization had been around in 1930 rather than starting in 1935.

Who is to say? Bix had the supporting love of his family, had been to one of the best known rehabilitative hospitals in the midwest in those days, struggled with himself to make his renunciation of alcohol stick. Even in those early days of AA, it was begnning to be recognized that it was a physical disease, not a weakness of character -- and, like Bix, Bill W. fell into the ugly grasp of substance abuse during the height of Prohibition, when bootleg liquor was adulterated with all sorts of dangerous, addictive, and poisonous chemicals anyway. The allergic reaction/physical propensity to drinking the burgeoning alcoholic had was intensified.

If the Dorseys and others of their vile ilk -- sorry, Dorsey lovers, but were these guys REALLY Bix's friends, or just mocking, jealous troublemakers? We've all read of the cruel stunts they pulled on him -- hadn't been rapping on Bix's hotel room and later apartment door with bottles; if other fellow sufferers had come by to walk him around the block and keep him drinking coffee until the bars closed, and ferretted out any hidden flasks of liquor in his room; if other troubled drinkers, whether fellow musicians/book lovers/friends, or just sympathetic acquaintences who were absolutely familiar with what he was going through -- if there had been AA or a group like it around to talk and comfort him and share his experience, could they have made a difference?

There's so much "what if" swirling around -- occasionally toasted on muggles instead of hefting a bottle, Bix very well could have survived like his pal Louis Armstrong; recognized and revered, finally dying "old and rich and happy". Two decades after Bix's time, some chronic alcoholics were being treated in clinics under carefully controlled circumstances with medical doses of LSD, with a 50% cure rate (not freaky acid trips, the likes of which were used as anti-hippie propaganda narratives to scare us as 1960's kids, but as psychiatric therapy). The outlawing of that drug ended the legal experimentation in the early 1950's. The strides made in medical care, reform, counseling, support groups, and rehab clinics all came tragically too late. And Bix could have suffered from deadly bronchial infection anyway -- no sulfa drugs or antibiotis were available in 1931 to combat the pneumonia -- it very well might have been the inevitability that he succumbed to this illness.

Between the shamed, guilty admittance of "We could have helped him. We could have," were the despairing cries of friends who did find out hours later or a day too late -- Tram, Hoagy -- "Why didn't he tell us? Why didn't he come to us for help?" -- their hurt rebukes to the girlfriends, who said it all happened so fast and they (Alice? Helen?) hadn't been around. And Red Nichols, returning the phone call Bix made to his wife a day too late -- who could have known the demise would be so rapid?

Laura
.... reported that he hid (or discarded) bottle of booze from Bix. Whiteman and Trumabuer were also concerned about Bix's excessive drinking.

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

April 27th, 2010, 1:21 pm #6

Having caught the televised movie on the CBS network last night about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, I could not help but think if that sort of intervention might have saved Bix, if only the organization had been around in 1930 rather than starting in 1935.

Who is to say? Bix had the supporting love of his family, had been to one of the best known rehabilitative hospitals in the midwest in those days, struggled with himself to make his renunciation of alcohol stick. Even in those early days of AA, it was begnning to be recognized that it was a physical disease, not a weakness of character -- and, like Bix, Bill W. fell into the ugly grasp of substance abuse during the height of Prohibition, when bootleg liquor was adulterated with all sorts of dangerous, addictive, and poisonous chemicals anyway. The allergic reaction/physical propensity to drinking the burgeoning alcoholic had was intensified.

If the Dorseys and others of their vile ilk -- sorry, Dorsey lovers, but were these guys REALLY Bix's friends, or just mocking, jealous troublemakers? We've all read of the cruel stunts they pulled on him -- hadn't been rapping on Bix's hotel room and later apartment door with bottles; if other fellow sufferers had come by to walk him around the block and keep him drinking coffee until the bars closed, and ferretted out any hidden flasks of liquor in his room; if other troubled drinkers, whether fellow musicians/book lovers/friends, or just sympathetic acquaintences who were absolutely familiar with what he was going through -- if there had been AA or a group like it around to talk and comfort him and share his experience, could they have made a difference?

There's so much "what if" swirling around -- occasionally toasted on muggles instead of hefting a bottle, Bix very well could have survived like his pal Louis Armstrong; recognized and revered, finally dying "old and rich and happy". Two decades after Bix's time, some chronic alcoholics were being treated in clinics under carefully controlled circumstances with medical doses of LSD, with a 50% cure rate (not freaky acid trips, the likes of which were used as anti-hippie propaganda narratives to scare us as 1960's kids, but as psychiatric therapy). The outlawing of that drug ended the legal experimentation in the early 1950's. The strides made in medical care, reform, counseling, support groups, and rehab clinics all came tragically too late. And Bix could have suffered from deadly bronchial infection anyway -- no sulfa drugs or antibiotis were available in 1931 to combat the pneumonia -- it very well might have been the inevitability that he succumbed to this illness.

Between the shamed, guilty admittance of "We could have helped him. We could have," were the despairing cries of friends who did find out hours later or a day too late -- Tram, Hoagy -- "Why didn't he tell us? Why didn't he come to us for help?" -- their hurt rebukes to the girlfriends, who said it all happened so fast and they (Alice? Helen?) hadn't been around. And Red Nichols, returning the phone call Bix made to his wife a day too late -- who could have known the demise would be so rapid?

Laura
.... the headline in an article in Down Beat, August 1937.

http://ms.cc.sunysb.edu/%7Ealhaim/Artic ... cholsonbix

An account of what Red Nichols told the reporter.

Albert
Last edited by ahaim on April 27th, 2010, 1:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reply
Like
Share

David Sager
David Sager

April 27th, 2010, 4:24 pm #7

Having caught the televised movie on the CBS network last night about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, I could not help but think if that sort of intervention might have saved Bix, if only the organization had been around in 1930 rather than starting in 1935.

Who is to say? Bix had the supporting love of his family, had been to one of the best known rehabilitative hospitals in the midwest in those days, struggled with himself to make his renunciation of alcohol stick. Even in those early days of AA, it was begnning to be recognized that it was a physical disease, not a weakness of character -- and, like Bix, Bill W. fell into the ugly grasp of substance abuse during the height of Prohibition, when bootleg liquor was adulterated with all sorts of dangerous, addictive, and poisonous chemicals anyway. The allergic reaction/physical propensity to drinking the burgeoning alcoholic had was intensified.

If the Dorseys and others of their vile ilk -- sorry, Dorsey lovers, but were these guys REALLY Bix's friends, or just mocking, jealous troublemakers? We've all read of the cruel stunts they pulled on him -- hadn't been rapping on Bix's hotel room and later apartment door with bottles; if other fellow sufferers had come by to walk him around the block and keep him drinking coffee until the bars closed, and ferretted out any hidden flasks of liquor in his room; if other troubled drinkers, whether fellow musicians/book lovers/friends, or just sympathetic acquaintences who were absolutely familiar with what he was going through -- if there had been AA or a group like it around to talk and comfort him and share his experience, could they have made a difference?

There's so much "what if" swirling around -- occasionally toasted on muggles instead of hefting a bottle, Bix very well could have survived like his pal Louis Armstrong; recognized and revered, finally dying "old and rich and happy". Two decades after Bix's time, some chronic alcoholics were being treated in clinics under carefully controlled circumstances with medical doses of LSD, with a 50% cure rate (not freaky acid trips, the likes of which were used as anti-hippie propaganda narratives to scare us as 1960's kids, but as psychiatric therapy). The outlawing of that drug ended the legal experimentation in the early 1950's. The strides made in medical care, reform, counseling, support groups, and rehab clinics all came tragically too late. And Bix could have suffered from deadly bronchial infection anyway -- no sulfa drugs or antibiotis were available in 1931 to combat the pneumonia -- it very well might have been the inevitability that he succumbed to this illness.

Between the shamed, guilty admittance of "We could have helped him. We could have," were the despairing cries of friends who did find out hours later or a day too late -- Tram, Hoagy -- "Why didn't he tell us? Why didn't he come to us for help?" -- their hurt rebukes to the girlfriends, who said it all happened so fast and they (Alice? Helen?) hadn't been around. And Red Nichols, returning the phone call Bix made to his wife a day too late -- who could have known the demise would be so rapid?

Laura
So, what are some of the vile stunts perpetrated on Bix by Tommy and Jimmy?
Reply
Share

Jon Pytko
Jon Pytko

April 27th, 2010, 10:03 pm #8

I believe that this was discussed several years ago; and that Tommy was the guilty brother, not Jimmy. I couldn't imagine the quieter, more sensitive brother taking part in such doings, although of course I never knew Jimmy personally. A pity that he didn't wage a verbal or physical battle with Tommy about this, though.
Reply
Share

Jamaica
Jamaica

April 27th, 2010, 10:07 pm #9

So, what are some of the vile stunts perpetrated on Bix by Tommy and Jimmy?
Frankly, I, myself don't have a problem with Jimmy Dorsey, he'd get on Tommy for messing with Bix, but Tommy just never let up with bringing the booze around, even after everyone knew Bix was trying to stay on the wagon. I certainly wouldn't call someone like that a true friend.
Reply
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

April 27th, 2010, 11:23 pm #10

Reply
Like
Share