Allen Lanier is dead, and that is a very sad thing.
I am sure that many of you don’t know who Allen is off hand, but he was the keyboardist/guitarist, and co-founder of the band Blue Oyster Cult. The band is one of the most amazingly deep and mysterious metal bands ever and EVERYONE knows their big hit song, “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” They have other fabulous songs as well and I always describe them by saying if Lynyrd Skynyrd is the Jack Daniels or Johnnie Walker of rock, the Blue Oyster Cult is the “Absinthe” of rock—very trippy, mysterious, and psychedelic.
Alan wrote some of their songs, and sang and played on every single studio album the band ever made. He was also Patti Smith’s lover in the early 70’s and while they lived together Alan helped write a lot of Patti’s songs too.
In her 2010 book “Just Kids,” Patti recalls meeting Alan:
“Allen came from strong Southern stock, which included the Civil War poet Sidney Lanier and the playwright Tennessee Lanier Williams. He was soft-spoken, encouraging and shared my affection for the poems of William Blake, which he could recite from memory.”
I remember meeting Patti in Berkeley, California in the early 70’s when she was just getting started. She was going from record store to record store passing out copies of her first 45 single, which she was carrying in a brown paper shopping bag. She was as poor as a church mouse just wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
I guess she and Allen had hit it off and when they were going to drive back into San Francisco they offered me a ride. I sat in the back of a very large rent-a-car and Patti sat snuggled up close to Allen on the front seat while he drove.
This moment always stands out in my memory as it was quite movie like. We were driving across the Oakland Bay Bridge as the sun was going down. I was in the back seat watching two very young rock kids (well, we were ALL kids back then) in the front seat appearing very much in love—Allen wearing a black leather jacket over a T-shirt and Patti just in a T-shirt. He had the window rolled down, his left elbow resting on the door and his other arm around Patti. And, I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, these two are at the very beginning of their adventures in the music business and life in general, and I wonder what will happen for them as a couple and/or separately??”
Well, as we all know now, A LOT happened for the both of them!
Allen was one of the coolest cats I ever met. An intellectual rocker but who never lorded it over you. And he always had his nose in a book–which I found odd (for a heavy metal band member) but also quite refreshing. One of my favorite parts of the early Blue Oyster Cult shows was known as “The Five Guitars.” Buck, the lead guitarist would start with a riff, Eric Bloom, the lead singer would pick up a guitar and echo it, then Allen would come out from behind the keyboard, strap on an electric guitar and play the same riff—and on and on until all five of the guys were standing in front of the audience blaring this riff as they walked closer and closer to edge of the stage. Sometimes they’d even come off the stage still configured in that one long line of electric guitars. It was bold, strident, and very intimidating. And, totally HEAVY METAL! I was always amazed at how Allen was so comfortable playing both instruments.
Anyway, the world is missing someone very special today, and that light will no longer grace the planet. And that is a very sad thing, indeed.
We will all miss you Allen, and your sweet soft-spoken soul.
Hope to meet up with you again one day in the afterlife—until then go see if Hendrix wants to jam!
Miss you buddy,
© Paul Rappaport 2013