Everybody has energy that washes all over us every time we’re around them. We can’t help it. Some people bring us up, others bring us down- whether we’re doing it consciously or not. Gary Miller was one of those people who brought you up to the point that you forgot whatever little things were bothering you at the time. If you were dealing with big issues, talking to Gary felt good. He was a good listener. He was intelligent, wise, thought provoking, and funny. He was inspirational.
Many people knew Gary a lot better than I did, but his passing last week leaves a hole, even for those of us that only knew him somewhat. I met Gary back in the ’90’s, playing in a band called Rupa Dupa. He was the house manager of the Chameleon Club in Lancaster when it was one of the best clubs on the east coast. Gary was great to work with because he was part music fan, part club manager, and was a musician himself (percussion).
Not long after, we met again in Dave Costarella’s band, D.C. & Company. There are many reasons why D.C. & Company has lasted for several decades, one of them being that the group is like a musical family. The gigs are even sometimes referred to as family reunions. It’s a reunion for the audience too- friends and family getting together to celebrate life and make music. That’s the special quality of the band and that feeling, to me, always came directly from Dave Costarella and Gary Miller.
Gary was inspirational because he did not let his problems define his attitude or his limits even though, due to a rare disease, he eventually had both his legs amputated around the knee. ThanksGivingBack, Lancaster’s long-standing Thanksgiving eve fundraising party, was originally started by Costarella to help Gary deal with medical bills related to his condition and surgery. Nearly 20 years later, the event is still going strong and has helped several people and community groups.
Not long after he lost his first leg, D.C. & Company had a gig in New York City. Gary arrived the night before and stayed with friends, about 30 blocks from the club we were playing. The next day, as we were unloading our equipment, Gary walks around the corner. The conversation went something like this:
“Did you walk?”, somebody asked.
“Yes.” Gary said.
“Why? They have cabs here, you know.”
“Yeah, but it’s a nice day to be outside and get some exercise.”
I know people in fine physical condition who would whine about having to walk the distance Gary chose to walk with one natural leg and one fairly new prosthetic one. If you asked him why he seemed, at times, to do things the hard way, the reply was often a strong, cheerful, “because I can”.
Gary and I are both big Prince fans and went with several others to see him perform in State College years ago. The show was phenomenal, as you would expect, but traffic on the way home was brutal- literally at a stand still. While some of us walked around impatiently outside the van, Gary took off both of his prosthetic legs, lay down across the seat, and went to sleep, happily pointing out that “there are occasional advantages to having half your legs cut off.”
Time after time, Gary proved that your attitude does more to define you than anything else. And your attitude is totally within your control. I’ll miss hanging out with him at gigs and seeing him around town, but I won’t forget the examples he gave us of how to live.