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article on Jim Gordon by Barry Rehfeld(Rolling Stone Magazine)

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Dec 10, 2001, 3:12:55 PM12/10/01
As one of rock's best drummers, James Beck Gordon kept time with the
Sixties, until he could no longer resist a different kind of madness.

Here is the article- thanks to whoever posted the link to tghe splat
page- and pardon me if I broke any copyright laws- I am not making any
money from it- LOL. Mike.
When The Voices Took Over

By Barry Rehfeld
Rolling Stone- June 6th, 1985

She wanted him to kill her. The voices - her voice - has said so.
It was her voice that helped him pick out the eight-and-a-quarter-inch
butcher knife, and had him sharpen it. And he would do what the voices
told him to do because he always listened to them, even though they had
ruined his life.
It was some life.
James Beck Gordon had been, quite simply, one of the greatest
drummers of his time. In the Sixties and Seventies he had played with
John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, the Everly Brothers, the Beach
Boys, Judy Collins, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, Carly Simon,
Jackson Browne and Joan Baez. But the gigs had long since come to an end,
and on June 3rd, 1983, there was nothing on his mind except killing his
The voices told him what to do next. One said to hit her with a
hammer first, so she would not suffer when he stabbed her with the knife.
He would obey. He packed the hammer and the knife in a small leather
attach case and that afternoon drove his white Datsun 200SX the five miles
from his Van Nuys condominium to his mother's small North Hollywood
apartment. When he got there, she was not in, so he went home and waited.
At about 11:30 that evening he returned. A light was on inside, and when
he knocked on the door, he could hear Osa Marie Gordon shuffling across
the floor in her slippers.
When his mother opened the door, the six-foot-three Gordon stared
down at the heavyset seventy-two-year-old gray-haired woman for only an
instant. "Jim", she said, in that eternally irretrievable moment before
he hit her. As she screamed, he struck her with the hammer three more
times, then as she fell to the floor he plunged the knife into her chest
three times, and left it there - dead center.
At his trial in Los Angeles last spring, James Beck Gordon was found
guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to sixteen years to life.
The defense had argued insanity - but a tough new California law makes it
almost impossible to prove that anyone is legally insane. Still, noone -
neither the prosecution nor the presiding judge - disagreed with the
diagnosis of the five defense psychiatrists that Gordon was an acute
schizophrenic. No one, that is, except Gordon.
"They call everybody that", he said last August in a heavily secured
prison meeting room at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.
While talking, Gordon, 39, had trouble getting the hang of rolling a
cigarette, and he smiled at his frustration. It was a warm, ingratiating
smile that was as much a part of his being as the fact that he had
brutally murdered his mother.
"I really don't feel that crazy", he added. "I get along with
people. I think I'm pretty normal."
Gordon spoke softly and calmly. He was taking a powerful
antipsychotic drug daily, and it seemed to help him feel better about
himself, but he also appeared to believe what he said. It was, of course,
all part of the delusion. So much had happened that it spilled out in
great torrents from fellow musicians, friends, doctors, and Gordon
himself. The murder of his mother was only the final act of madness.
Throughout his life there had been a series of disturbing eruptions that
gave clear signs of the psychosis destroying his mind. And yet many of
them were minimized or overlooked by those around him. The business of
making music had much to do with it. In that maddeningly creative,
nomadic world where geniuses, superstars, impresarios, fakers, freaks and
free spirits vie for the spotlight, Gordon's was just another act. That
no one cried out before the disaster was just one of the many tragedies in
a life that was, for a long time, "pretty normal."

With his curly blond hair and beefy build, James Beck Gordon was a
California golden hunk in an Ozzie and Harriet family. Home was a small
house in Sherman Oaks, a quiet bedroom community in Los Angeles' San
Fernando Valley. It was a neighborhood where boys like James and his
older brother, John, mowed the lawn, shined their father's shoes and
minded their manners. When either brother spoke, it was always "Please,"
"Thank You" and, on the phone, "Gordon residence."
When the decorum was shattered, it was in gentle Fifties sitcom
fashion. At age eight, Gordon made a set of drums out of trash cans and
held his musical debut in the room he shared with his brother. But,
instead of throwing the cans out, his parents paid for music lessons.
Both parents were solid breadwinners. His father was an accountant, while
his mother was a nurse in the maternity ward of a local hospital. By
twelve, 'Gordon had his own set of drums, and after additions to the
house, a room of his own to play them in.
There was only one stain on this picture-perfect scene from suburbia,
and it was hidden from view. When Gordon was a boy, his father was an
alcoholic. It was his mother's strength that held the family together
until the children reached adolescence and her husband joined Alcoholics
Anonymous, stopped drinking and became a full-time father again, happily
managing his sons' Little League team and playing the role of neighborhood
"They were good parents", Gordon says simply.
Yet, even within the relative tranquillity of his family circle,
there were warnings of the nightmares to come. Although he played
frequently with his brother and was treated as the baby of the family by
his parents, he says he felt left out. Eating made him feel better, but
it only added to his insecurity; he was heavy, and sensitive about his
weight. There was only once comfort to which he could turn; the voices.
He seemed to need them. They were his friends, a child's companions -
someone to talk to - safe, loyal, kind.
"Those voices were totally within the realm of reality for a small
boy", says Dr. William Vicary, one of the defense psychologists, "but they
were also indicative of the paranoiac insecurities he would fall prey to
Whatever insecurities he felt as a child, they were not easily
justifiable for the teenage Gordon. Tall, husky, handsome and winsomely
shy, he was elected class president in junior high school. His rising
popularity paralleled his increasing devotion to music.
While in high school, he played with the Burbank Symphony, toured
Europe one summer and performed in the Tournament of Roses Parade with a
youth band. With a fake ID, so he could work as an adult, he took on jobs
at weddings, bar mitzvahs and small clubs. Soon he was working weekends
as part of a group called Frankie Knight and the Jesters. They played the
clubs in Hollywood and West Los Angeles for five or ten dollars a night.
It was barely spending money, but Gordon got more out of it than cash.
The insecurities and the voices receded as though overwhelmed by the beat
of the music.
His parents wanted him to go to college, and he considered becoming a
music teacher. UCLA offered him a music scholarship, but he turned it
down. Too much was happening in the industry for him to spend four more
years in school.
The Los Angeles studio scene was the place to be for a talented young
musician in the early Sixties. It was where the best and highest-paid
sidemen came to do their most creative work, laying down track after track
until they had the perfect sound. Producer Phil Spector, with his Wall of
Sound, was a one-man hit factory, rolling out gold records for the
Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers. Keeping time with
Spector was surf music, as epitomized by the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.
Gordon pounced on whatever work he could get. A friend who played
saxophone for Duane Eddy heard Gordon play with the Jesters and
recommended him for a demo, the raw recording of a basic song. It was the
lowest-paying work, but for Gordon it was a great start. That and his
Jester gigs were the best ways to get himself noticed. Everyone was
hunting for talent, and the clubs Gordon played were crawling with scouts.
One who spotted him was a bass player with the Everly Brothers.
Rock's premier duo was gearing up for a summer tour of England in
1963, and after Gordon auditioned, the Everly Brothers wanted him to be
their drummer. Although his parents disapproved, his pay would be low and
his toehold in the studios would be lost, it was one spectacular
graduation present, and Gordon jumped at the opportunity.
The tour was a success (he joined them for another the following
year). When Gordon returned home, he was excited about making performing
his career. It was slow going at first. He even had enough time on his
hands to attend Los Angeles Valley College. Yet, if Gordon was learning
anything that school year, it was not in junior college but in the A&B
Corned Beef restaurant. There the great studio musicians hung out during
their breaks, talking music and industry gossip. Gordon's club dates,
demo work and Everly Brothers credit made him an accepted member of the
club. Whenever he could, he grabbed a sandwich and picked up some
impromptu lessons by watching the great sidemen play. He was a quick
study. Within a year, his formal education was over, and he was headed
for a class by himself as a drummer.

At thirty-five, Hal Blaine was the most respected session drummer in
Los Angeles, with more work than he could handle, when Gordon arrived on
the scene. Blaine says, "His name was on everybody's lips." Including
Blaine's = and that was better than a meal ticket.
"When I didn't have the time", he says, "I recommended Jim. He was
one hell of a drummer. I thought he was one of the real comers."
Word spread that there was a hot new drummer around. Gordon was the
"only living metronome" and had a "knack for hitting the sweet spot."
Soon, like Blaine, he was handling two or three recording sessions a day,
sometimes six, seven days a week and charging double time for it,
something only the best could do. At that price, producers were also
getting the drummer's own set, instead of jack-of-all-beats student skins.
The meticulous care Gordon gave his own kits made producers eager not only
for his talent but for his sound. The big Gordon beat was soon a
record-industry standard. From a session with the Righteous Brothers, he
and a set of his drums might travel to a date with Judy Collins while
another set was being shipped to the day's final session with Bobby Darin,
Gordon Lightfoot, Glen Campbell or Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Almost
overnight the money was rolling in, and he handled it well. After all,
his father was an accountant, and proud of it, too.
In 1964 Gordon married an attractive, vivacious dancer whom his
mother had liked ever since he had begun going with her during his
youth-band days. In many ways, Jim and Jill Gordon were an ideal couple.
Music continued to be a bond in marriage, as both landed jobs on the
prime-time-television rock show "Shindig". Together they bought a
Mercedes 220S and a Spanish-style two-bedroom house in North Hollywood.
It was not far from Gordon's parents' house, and they dined there
As the Sixties raced along, the times-they-are-a-changin' energy made
Gordon restless. He tried to break with his routine by forming his own
group, but they made only one album before splitting up. He then grew
closer to Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge, who had recorded a popular album
with the white soul duo Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett.
Delaney and Bonnie were getting set to tour England in 1969 and had a
drummer, Jim Keltner, but Gordon wanted to go. "He traded me some studio
gigs for a chance with Delaney and Bonnie", recalls Keltner, who worked
with John Lennon, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. "He became
the main guy because he was better."
Shortly before Jim left for England, Jim and Jill were divorced.
Their marriage had lasted five years and produced one child, a daughter.
True to his paternal roots, Gordon made sure he was paid more than any of
the sidemen. But Delaney and Bonnie could afford to pay him a little
extra. The tour was almost guaranteed to be a success. The duo was far
more popular in England than in the States, and with the addition of a
couple of unemployed guitarists named Eric Clapton and George Harrison,
the tour took on superstar trappings.
"He was gentle", says Bonnie Bramlett about Gordon, "sincere,
considerate, brutally handsome, charming as a snake, and could he play!
He was right on the money. I could do whatever I wanted. I was really
enjoying myself. We all were. And it showed."
Audiences everywhere caught the spirit. The tour sold out, and a
live album was a critical and financial success. Delaney and Bonnie
thought they had the makings of a long and fruitful collaboration, but
they were wrong.

Nearly everyone from the Delaney and Bonnie ensemble left to join
Leon Russell for Joe Cocker's soon-to-be infamous Mad Dogs and Englishmen
tour. "When they left", says Bramlett in a bittersweet voice, "we were
the last to know, and it broke our hearts."
The tour had been Leon Russell's idea, with a little help from a
canine friend named Canina. The show had everything: not only Canina but
booze and drugs, a menage of groupies, wives and children, a live-record
contract and a film crew taking it all in for a feature-length movie.
Sheer genius, total decadence, utter madness and knockout showmanship
mixed in equal measure. Cocker led by example. Alternating between
performing brilliantly and forgetting the words to his songs, he could be
an inspiration on the tour one day, then throw up in public the next. All
the while, drink and drugs were the red and green lights directing the
action onstage and off: heroin, mescaline, speed, MDA, cocaine, acid.
"The real decrepit things went on", says Keltner, who came along to
play double drums with Gordon. "Sharing girls. Screwing every chick in
sight. Most were there for that purpose. The drugs were just as easy to
get. I wasn't a stranger to them myself. Now I feel like I'm lucky to
have survived them."
Gordon seemed to more than survive drugs then. He was a superman.
For a young man who had never before done anything stronger than grass,
Gordon did drugs prodigiously. Before one concert in Seattle, Gordon got
Keltner to drop acid with him. During a rendition of "Bird on the Wire",
Keltner was unable to continue. Gordon tried to coach him, to no avail.
Keltner left in tears, while Gordon powered on.
It went that way the whole tour: Gordon playing at the top of his
stroke while he swallowed, smoked and snorted anything he could get his
hands on. He was trying to keep the demons at bay.
"I had a feeling I was being watched", he says, "but it was all in
the background."
The voices were pattering - they did not like the drug business - but
there were mere murmurs then, perhaps no more than childhood memories or
his conscience. Gordon ignored them. Everything was going along so
smoothly. He avoided the groupie scene in favor of a steady relationship
with Rita Coolidge. They spent nearly all their spare time together. He
bought her a fox-fur coat. They collaborated in writing music and laughed
over who was the poorer piano player. But it all came to an abrupt end
one afternoon in a room at the Warwick Hotel, in New York, where the band
was hanging out.
"He asked me to step out into the hall", Coolidge says, "I thought he
wanted to talk; instead he hit me."
The blow sent her sprawling and left her with a black eye for the
rest of the tour. It was then, as now, inexplicable. It appeared simply
to be the first chapter of a paranoid madness. Gordon is sheepish about
it now. He was apologetic then. He left books of poetry for Coolidge,
but she would no longer have anything to do with him. In a madmen's tour,
the incident was quickly buried by others, and Gordon continued on a roll.
When the tour ended, Gordon got a call from George Harrison in
London. He wanted Gordon to join him as well as Clapton and Phil Spector
in making his first solo album, the landmark "All Things Must Pass".
After they finished, Clapton asked Gordon if he wanted to form a band.
Gordon said yes, settled in a Chelsea flat and bought a Ferrari. Together
with Bobby Whitlock, Carl Randle and Duane Allman, he and Clapton formed
Derek and the Dominos.
It was an unparalleled combination of creativity and star-crossed
lives. Clapton was the Mozart of rock, a man of seemingly limitless
talent nearing ruin. He was not alone: heroin was a favorite drug in the
group. Still, the music fell into place. Gordon and Clapton wrote the
classic "Layla", the title cut of the group's only studio album. Clapton
wrote the driving first half, and Gordon added the inspired piano melody
on the haunting second half, one of the products of his work with
The group broke up acrimoniously after its only tour in 1972, citing
differences over money and artistic direction, but the drugs had had much
to do with it, too.
"The producers wouldn't pay me for Layla", Gordon recalls, "because
they said I would be dead in six months anyway."
As sobering as that may have been - especially given the drug-related
deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin as well as Duane Allman's later
fatal motorcycle accident - Gordon kept doing drugs, graduating from
snorting to mainlining heroin. And he kept up his feverish work pace.
John Lennon brought Gordon aboard for his solo album "Imagine". (They had
played together when Gordon, Clapton and Harrison joined Lennon's Plastic
Ono Band for a UNICEF concert in London in 1969.) Next he took over the
drumming for Traffic on "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and the tour
that followed. When he returned to London, he did studio sessions for
producer Richard Perry, including Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." Then he
was ready to go home to California. He was tiring of the cycle of drugs
and work, and he had just received his own warning of the damage they
could do. Driving on a rain-soaked road, his mind had drifted and he had
totaled his Ferrari.
Word of how he had changed - the drugs and alcohol, the accident and
his treatment of Coolidge - preceded Gordon to L.A. He was labeled
another drugged-out superstar casualty, unable to deal with the pressure,
the work and the drugs. Yet, when he got back, it was as if he had never
left. Gordon was in such demand that he could pick and choose his
recording dates.
The music industry was booming. There was a feeling that the
impossible could be done every day, and new groups and sounds were being
tried out everywhere. Although the risks of failure were high, so were
the payoffs. The record companies made sure they had a safety net. When
a band got in the studio, a new range of high-tech equipment as well as
sidemen like Gordon were waiting there to prevent any bad recording cuts.
"In most cases", says producer Michael Omartian, "drummers in a group
had to get used to the fact that when they got into the studio, they were
going to be replaced by Jim."
He never let up. He was working in studios constantly, with Steely
Dan ("Rikki Don't Lose That Number"), Johnny Rivers (L.A. Reggae), Maria
Muldaur ("Midnight at the Oasis") and many others. Any doubts about the
staying power of his talents quickly disappeared. He had gotten away with
Excepting his father's death in 1973, Gordon remembers the period
following his return from England as one of the best in his life. He
bought a house in Sherman Oaks and a new Mercedes 450SLC, saw his daughter
again and married singer and songwriter Renee Armand. For a time, he also
stayed away from drugs. Still, he was not entirely clean.
"I guess I was an alcoholic", he says now, contemplating the slide
from drugs too booze. "Before, I was drinking every night, but I wasn't
getting up in the morning for a drink; I would put a needle in my arm.
When I stopped taking the heroin, I began to drink all day."
He didn't stop doing drugs for long. Speedballs - cocaine mixed with
heroin - became his passion. Still, he was always there when a record
producer needed him, and he was one sideman who never excused himself
during a session to do a line. His reputation was so solid that even
those who took no part in the drug and alcohol culture, like the Osmonds,
were glad to have him play with them. Nevertheless, there was something
churning up Gordon's insides.
It was as if there was a struggle for control over him - and he was
slowly losing. He went from warm to polite; from friendly to pleasant;
from quiet to uncommunicative. During session breaks, he would stand
alone in the corner mumbling to himself. He told a friend not to give out
his telephone number - he didn't want to talk to anyone.
"He was always a quiet guy", says bass player Max Bennett, "but the
quiet became very loud, and everybody left him alone."
Gordon gradually retreated, like someone with a terrible secret.
Sometimes he would disappear for days, isolating himself in some
out-of-the-way hotel. His old childhood insecurities returned, but they
were grown up now, into full-blown paranoia. He felt unwanted and unsure
of himself. Life atop the drummer's pedestal was shaky. He had an
irrational fear of the latest crop of drummers who were swarming all over
Los Angeles. When the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band was forming in 1973,
Gordon surprised Chris Hillman by quietly asking for an audition when the
job was his without question.
This was not the Jim Gordon anyone knew, and few knew who or what was
taking his place. In a business where so many had an intimate
relationship with drugs and booze, there was an unquiet feeling that
whatever was wrong with Gordon, it bore little resemblance to anything
they had ever seen at the end of a needle or at the bottom of a bottle.
"The paranoia", explains Dr. Vicary, "was just one symptom of his
illness. It is often one of the earliest signs of schizophrenia. 'I'm
okay', he might say. 'They're all just out to get me.' The 'they' are
often real people in the beginning. When more advanced symptoms turn up,
delusions and hallucinations, they can become imaginary voices and
Gordon's wife Renee was perhaps the first to glimpse the otherworldly
horror in his soul. Theirs had always been a mercurial relationship,
certified by an overnight trip to Las Vegas and held together by their
mutual love of music. Gordon played the drums, guitar and piano on her
solo album, The Rain Book, and arranged and wrote some of the music. But
whatever the difficulties that arose in their marriage, Armand was not
prepared for the violence.
She was just coming home from shopping one afternoon, hadn't even put
the groceries down, when Gordon confronted her. He looked down at her
with a menacing stare, his eyes narrowing. It was a look that would chill
many over the next decade.
"I know what you're doing," he said.
She said she didn't know what he was talking about. He pointed to
three objects on the floor.
"The magic triangle," he said. He accused her of being responsible
for evil spirits in the house. She denied it, and then he punched her,
cracking several ribs.
"I loved him very much," says Armand. "I didn't know what had
happened to him, but I couldn't stay after that."
His marriage was over after only six months, but Gordon did not
remain alone. The voices kept him company. They were back. He doesn't
know how, why or from where they came, only that they were back. Of that
he was sure. He was stone-cold sober and straight when he heard them. No
more murmurs hiding in the background. They were everywhere. As the
became part of his daily life, they took on real identities. There was a
family of voices, with faces he could see in his mind but whose names he
did not know. The leader was a man with a white beard, and the group
included a young blonde woman and another who was dark and Greek. Some he
knew well: his brother, his aunt and, most of all, his mother.
"The voices started out friendly," he says. "They were giving me
little pointers. How to take care of myself and the house. How to shop.
I was glad for the help. I was getting ready for the rest of my life. I
thought it was pretty strange, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I heard them all the time. They would tell me if I was doing right or
wrong. And I took it in like a fool. They said I had some kind of
responsibility to God and country. I was the king of the universe, they
said. I had to make sacrifices, and I had to do what they said. That's
when my mother started making me eat half my food."
There was no more reason for eating less than there was for the
existence of the voices. But however many calories he lost in food, there
were more in the alcohol he consumed. He could drink a fifth of scotch or
vodka a day and still work. No one knew about the battle raging for his
mind. He was still the king of the calfskins, with all the privileges
that went with it.
If one woman left him, there was always another one eager to take her
place, though there were now few women part of the social swirl who did
not know the risk they were taking. One was a secretary named Stacey
Bailey, who got to know Gordon while working for Bread. She moved in with
him and for a long time beat the odds. In fact, there were times when
Gordon was quietly at peace with himself. He earnestly recited passages
from the Bible and was often a warm, sensitive person. He brought her
breakfast in bed, got her a seat next to Bob Dylan at a Joan Baez concert
and took care of her dog and its newborn puppies when she went to visit
her parents.
But there was also ample reason to be on guard. A dangerous Orestes
was on the prowl, stirred on by fear and insecurity and the voices. He
shared the secret of the voices with Bailey and complained about his
mother. Although he made no link between the two, his complaints about
his mother were the same as those about the voices. He tried so hard to
please his mother, he told Bailey, but that was not enough for her. His
mother wanted to control his life, as all women did.
Bailey was sleeping one night when she woke up unable to breathe.
Gordon was choking her.
"God, did I talk!" she says. "I don't know what I said. I said
whatever came into my mind, and I tried to stay calm. I knew I just had
to convince him that he had to stop."
She was on the verge of passing out when he loosened his grip. He
repeated the cycle again and again. Finally, he released her and fell
back on the bed laughing. It was all a joke, he said.
Hysterical, Bailey ran to the neighbors. He cried. "I just wanted
to see if you really cared about me," he told her.
"His violent feelings toward women," says Dr. Vicary, "probably could
be traced to the fact that his mother was the strong parent, perhaps the
one responsible for discipline. It's not much to hang your hat on, but he
didn't need much. He was - is - crazy."
The violence Gordon committed against women was his personal affair,
and as long as he kept it that way, no one in the business - virtually all
of them men - said anything. Yet for Gordon every day was becoming a
struggle. The voices were tormenting him now to the point that it made it
harder and harder for him to control his rage. His main defense was his
politeness and keeping his distance from people.
Gordon's defenses were damaged, and the emotional wall was not going
to hold. He had to patch it up. He gave up drugs for good and, with his
mother's help, went on the wagon. It was only a band-aid solution,
though. Gordon needed the drink to fight the relentless voices, and in a
short time he was drinking more than ever. The madness was winning, and
soon everyone would know it.

The first time most people in the L.A. music scene remember hearing
about Gordon's deteriorating mental state was after the recording of
Johnny Rivers' "Outside Help" in 1977. During one session Gordon suddenly
stopped playing. The whole studio grew still as Gordon glared at
guitarist Dean Parks.
"You're messing with my time," Gordon said, rising to his feet
Parks denied it. He and Gordon had done a lot of work together,
including Baez' "Diamonds and Rust" and "Gulf Winds", and nothing like
this had happened before.
"You're moving my hands," Gordon continued. "I want you to stop it."
Parks assured him that it was impossible for him to do anything from
across the room. Gordon grudgingly began playing again, but a few
sessions later he railed at someone else. Gordon was becoming a
liability. Record producers would not hire him anymore. With few
recording dates being offered, Gordon wound up doing lower-paying work,
like television, movies and commercials.
He had become the industry's quiet embarrassment, but he made it
easier for everybody else by making himself less available by touring and
recording in Canada with Burton Cummings. But the change in atmosphere
did him little good. There was just no escape. The combination of work,
drink, the voices and life on the run was killing him.
"I couldn't cope with being outside anymore," he says. "The voices
were chasing me around. Making me drive to different places. Starving
me. I was only allowed one bite of food a meal. And, if I disobeyed, the
voices would fill me with a rage, like the Hulk gets."
By 1977, his mother's voice all but consumed his every waking hour.
He told her to leave him alone. When that did not work, he telephoned his
mother and told her the same thing. Naturally, she did not know what he
was talking about.
"She said I needed help," he says, "so I went to Van Nuys Psychiatric
Hospital." It was the first of at least fourteen times that he would
check himself into a hospital over the next six years.
He told doctors that he couldn't sleep, that he heard voices,
including his mother's, and that he felt guilty about taking drugs and
leaving his former wife Jill. His mother visited, and he told doctors
that she was "the only friend" he had. Allowing for his ambivalent
feelings toward her, the doctors gave their permission for him to go home
with her on weekends. Even then he would hear her voice tormenting him,
and again the cycle of accusations and denials would begin. After only
two months, he checked himself out of the hospital, against his doctor's
advice. But Gordon agreed to see a doctor as an outpatient.
On September 3rd, when he did not show up for an appointment, his
doctor called Gordon's mother. She found him at home, unconscious. He
was rushed to the hospital, suffering from an overdose of the sedatives
prescribed by his psychiatrist. At his next meeting with his doctor he
apologized for attempting to commit suicide. The voices, he explained,
did not care if he killed himself. As serious as his condition was, he
would not continue therapy. The rage inside him made it impossible for
him to keep his appointments. So he reluctantly went back to work, doing
mostly commercials and movies. Then a friend recommended him to Jackson
Browne, who was going on tour. It was the spring of 1978, and Gordon saw
it as a chance for a comeback.
The tour was uneventful for Gordon, just as he wanted it. He jogged
and played racquetball with Browne.
"We played all the time," says Browne. "It was pretty well known
that he had had a breakdown, but I wanted him on the tour. You just
wanted to root for him. He cut such a gallant figure, with his open white
silk shirts and felt Borsalino hat, and he was such a good drummer. He'd
get my attention with this great fill, really imaginative. He just rose
to the occasion."
Yet, when Gordon got back from the tour, he saw that little had
changed. If anything, things had gotten worse. The music business was in
a profound slump. Record sales were nose-diving, and artists were having
a tough time getting their records produced. Sidemen were suddenly
expendable. With Gordon's emotional state as well as his talents and
dependability suspect, few record producers called.
Frequently out of work, Gordon would go on drinking binges for months
in an effort to drown out the voices. But it did no good. Nor did calls
to his mother and even to his brother, John, a bank executive in Seattle.
He was falling totally under the control of the voices. They would not
even allow him to accept all of the few jobs he was offered. When Bob
Dylan called late the following spring to talk about the Slow Train Coming
tour, the voices - his mother's voice - forced Gordon to say he was not
Hanging up on Dylan hurt Gordon terribly, and he was determined not
to let it happen again. A short time later, when Paul Anka offered him a
job in Las Vegas, Gordon accepted. Then his mother's voice delivered the
most crushing blow.
"I flew to Vegas," Gordon says, "played a couple of notes. My mother
said to leave, and I had to obey."
He returned severely depressed and in November checked himself into
Valley Presbyterian Hospital. It was one of his worst stays. He was so
upset that he threatened to kill a nurse. He doesn't remember threatening
her, but he remembers the incident.
"She wouldn't leave me alone," he says, "and my mother was working on
me. The nurse told me nothing was wrong with me. I had a pain in my
back. It was a psychological pain. I broke a potted plant. I ran down
the stairs yelling, 'Let me go. Let me go.'"
Again, as he did over and over, he checked out against doctors'
advice. It was all over, though. Whatever jobs followed were of little
consequence, and by 1980 he was, for all practical purposes, no longer a
professional musician.
"He couldn't function in the normal everyday world," says guitarist
Larry Rolando, one of the few friends Gordon saw then.
With substantial savings, smart real estate investments and royalty
payments coming in steadily, he could still afford to do anything or
nothing. He stopped playing his drums. There were periods where he would
not bathe, shave or change clothes for days, and others where he would
dress up and go to church. He spent much of his time sleeping, watching
old movies on television, writing songs he would never finish, playing the
same song endlessly on his piano late at night and drinking more than he
ever had. When he checked into the hospital again, on June 5th, 1980, he
had already consumed two-thirds of a bottle of cognac and half a gallon of
wine during the day.
He was gaining weight, and the doctors warned him that he was
destroying his liver. This time, the next day. The doctors never helped
him, he thought. He only went because he had to play his mother's voice's
little games.
"She liked hospitals because she was a nurse." He says, "and her
torture things were based on what they do in them, like eat part of your
food, sit up, lay down."
And yet he would turn to her when he got out. That, too, was part of
the game. He had to see her or suffer the consequences. The line between
mother and voice grew fainter until it did not exist. She was the voice,
and the voice was her.
His obsession with her voice was becoming his whole life. She was a
woman of unspeakable evil. He thought - still does - she killed Paul
Lynde and Karen Carpenter. At times he figured that his mother wanted him
to die, because his purposefulness - whatever that was - was over. At
other times he thought that she would rather torment him until the day she
"She knew what she was doing," he says. "She was ruining my life.
That's what she wanted to do."
Nothing was right or even safe for him. He stopped going to a bar,
he told Rolando, because there were evil people in it. He was
uncomfortable wherever he lived, so he moved from one place to another.
No car suited his needs. Within two years, he went from his Mercedes to a
Capri, a Scirocco, a Volkswagen van and finally Datsun.
Gordon prepared for the worst. He rented a storage garage and packed
it with freeze-dried food in expectation of the world's end. His record
of child-support payments was unblemished, and he paid his bills on time:
if he died suddenly, he would not owe anyone any money.
Every so often he would make an attempt to break out of his
depression. Reminiscent of his Jester days, he played the Los Angeles
club scene for a while, at spots like Chadney's, O'Mahoney's and the
Century Club. He talked of forming a band with Rolando.
"What could you say?" asks Rolando. "Who had any experience with
whatever was wrong with him? He wouldn't talk. Then there was that look.
He didn't trust anyone. One morning, at seven, he called about the band.
'I can't do this,' he said in a very cold voice. 'My jaw, my shoulder.
You don't know the pain. If I picked up my drumsticks, it would kill
Toward the end of 1982, the pain had become unbearable. On October
22nd, he checked into the hospital and told the doctors that he felt he
was dying of "hate" and that his "world was falling apart."
There seemed precious little left that he could do to end his misery.
He could kill himself or he could kill his mother. Both ideas wrestled
viciously for dominance.
In the spring of 1983 his mother decided to write him. She had not
seen her son in two years. He had avoided her, and she was often out of
the city. For a time, she lived near Lake Tahoe, and although retired
from nursing, she worked part time as a physical therapist throughout the
In a letter dated May 23rd - but never opened by Gordon - his mother
tried to reassure him that whatever was going on in his mind, she was not
the cause.
"I think of you so often and wonder how things are going for you,"
She wrote. Then she told him of her plans to move to Seattle in a month.
Part of her reason for moving was to get a safe distance away from her
son, but of course she did not write that. She told him only that she was
going to live with John and his family. They had a large house. It would
allow her plenty of privacy and at the same time give her the security of
having family around if she needed it. She finished the letter by
writing, "I love you, Jim, more than you know. Just remember, I am as
close to you as your phone."
She had mentioned her plans to him previously over the phone, and he
says now he thought they were "great." But that is the son talking. The
schizophrenic was hearing a different message. "She wanted me to throw my
drums away, do all these impossible things. We'd been over the same
ground so many times that I knew what was expected of me. She said,
'You're going to kill me,' or something like that.
It was 9:30 p.m. on June 1st when her telephone rang.
"You're bugging me again," Gordon told his mother, who was by then
writing everything down. "I'm going to kill you."
As always, she denied his accusations. After he hung up, she called
the Medical Center of North Hollywood and asked a nurse if her son had
been there. She was told that Gordon had been admitted that day. He had
been drinking and he said, "I want Thorazine [an antipsychotic drug]. I
am feeling very violent." ("Agitated," Gordon recalls.) But the doctor
was not in yet, and Gordon angrily left. Osa called the local police.
The desk officers on duty at the time said there was nothing that they
could do and suggested that she leave the lights on in her house. He also
wished her luck. She next tried John, but no one was home.
At 11:40 p.m. Gordon called again, and the conversation was a repeat
of the previous one, but there was nothing more she could do. She decided
against calling John again because it was too late. The following day,
Thursday, she called the city attorney's office about having her son
served with a restraining order. She faced a formidable bureaucracy,
though, and hung up.
Osa Gordon didn't call anyone after that day or the next. She had,
after all, been dealing with her son's illness for a decade and had to
manage only a few more weeks alone. Although it was necessary to treat
her son cautiously, he had never raised a hand against her, and no doctor
had ever warned her that he might. It was perhaps with these thoughts in
mind that she opened her door to her son when he suddenly appeared late
that fatal Friday night.
There were no witnesses to the murder, but neighbors heard the
screams and called the police. When they went to Gordon's apartment early
the next morning, it was to notify him of his mother's death. The police
found Gordon moaning and sobbing, face down on his living-room floor. He
had been sober when he killed his mother, but afterward he had been to a
bar and to Chadney's, where he had several double margaritas, penrods,
Long Island iced teas and them, once home, a fifth of vodka. Still, he
was coherent, and as the police lifted him to his feet, he confessed.
"I had no interest in killing her," Gordon says. "I wanted to stay
away from her. I had no choice. It was so matter-of-fact, like I was
being guided like a zombie. She wanted me to kill her, and good riddance
to her."

His mother's voice is gone now, but Gordon still hears the others.
The psychiatrists can shed little light on the origins of his illness.
"He was strongly predisposed to becoming a schizophrenic," says Dr.
Vicary, "and without that, it just won't happen. The stress of working in
a highly pressured, idiosyncratic business like music was a contributing
factor, and the drugs and the alcohol, used as self-medication, didn't do
him any good."
The doctors are not optimistic about his recovery, especially since
he is behind bars instead of in a hospital. He will continue to suffer
delusions and paranoia and to have intensely ambivalent feelings toward
himself and those people whose voices he hears.
His brother's is the most prominent now. Gordon generally gets along
with the voice except when it starts to nag him. The voice says he cannot
eat desserts. But that is all right, too, even though he has lost more
than enough weight to assuage the guilt of the boy drummer inside of him.
Far blacker thoughts have crossed his mind since he killed his mother.
Gordon attempted to commit suicide but slashing his wrists while he was in
the Los Angeles County Jail. Now, at San Luis Obispo, one gets the
feeling that all he wants to do is fit in.
"They have a band here," he says, with a smile. "I'm going to try to
get into it."
If the voices let him.


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