The summer when the music died

KEVIN COURTNEY

I know nothing about Christian heavy metal music, yet I was here in SoCal for the funeral of one of its famous performers, Michael Bloodgood.

My link to Bloodgood, he from the Christian Music Hall of Fame, was Cheryl. He was married to one of his best friends from high school, Marilyn, for nearly half a century.

Michael suffered a stroke last spring. While recovering this summer at a rehab facility, he was devastated by COVID.

I never met Bloodgood, but Cheryl had told some compelling stories. He and Marilyn formed a powerful Christian couple. They raised three sons who became ballet dancers. Michael performed with his band, Bloodgood, while pastoring a church in Washington State. And while his last name seemed made up — a nickname designed to sell albums — it wasn’t. Michael was born Bloodgood.

The funeral took place at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, which is not the Forest Lawn where all the stars are buried. This Forest Lawn is in Hollywood.

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But Glendale’s Forest Lawn is the original and greatest, with more than a quarter of a million people resting for eternity on 300 serene acres. And as far as celebrities go, Michael Jackson and Humphrey Bogart are laid to rest here, which isn’t too shabby in the star department.

Coming to pay tribute and support Marilyn, Cheryl was joined by two childhood friends, Sue and Nina. They had been an inseparable foursome at Crescenta Valley High School. I only had a small role to play, that of supportive partner.

We gathered in a stone chapel to hear tearful tributes from Bloodgood’s sons and watch a montage of family and group photos accompanied by Bloodgood songs. The band’s outfits were outrageous, which is to say they were real rockers.

While many dabbed at their eyes, I sat quietly trying to understand a genre of music and a faith-based life so far removed from mine. My attention kept returning to the stoic widow, dressed in black, who sat two rows ahead. What do you do when your life partner, someone larger than life, is gone? What kind of existence are you rebuilding?

After the service, everyone gathered outside as the casket was positioned for the trip to the grave. When I returned from a detour to the bathroom, I found Cheryl reunited with Sue, Nina and the widow.

This will be awkward as hell, I thought. What can I offer other than superficial condolences?

That’s not how it happened. Before I could say a word, Marilyn had words for me.

Looking me straight in the eye, she said, “I bet you’re looking for an angle for your spine.

Nothing had prepared me for this. How does a woman I’ve never met know I have a chronicle? Don’t I belong here? Should I slip away?

Marilyn hadn’t finished. “I bet your brain is spinning at an angle,” she continued.

My brain hadn’t buzzed – not about a future column, anyway. The very idea seemed crude.

Then I realized that Marilyn wasn’t scolding me. Wise to reporters and their ways, she teased – and smiled.

After the funeral, we all gathered on a rooftop in downtown Glendale for a light meal and socializing. I sat with Sue and Nina and their husbands as they processed the loss of a dear friend. Surely we all had a strong sense of our own mortality.

Marilyn circulated in the crowd, projecting great composure. When she joined the La Crescenta alumni, she spoke of the uncertainties that lay ahead. The number of problems to solve was impressive. When she sometimes took notes of humor, her sharing became unbearable and poignant.

With no part to play in this group catharsis, I strolled around to take photos, then stood in awe of the magnificence of the view over the San Fernando Valley – the silhouetted palm trees, the towering San Gabriels , the fiery orange orb that flowed to the Pacific.

It was incredibly beautiful. I had never felt so alive.

Kevin can be reached by emailing [email protected]