Funeral for a friend

No one beat on the drums. Which was remarkable, because Bobby Burns was all about pounding the skins; he was one rhythmic cat.

When Burns died last month at 76, word quickly spread around town through the usual channels—by phone, in coffeehouses and bars, on the street. In one sense, it wasn’t a shock; he was up in his years, and he still liked to have a really good time. But, because he’d become somewhat of a larger-than-life character, it was a shock. You kind of expected the guy to live forever.

Yet what was truly remarkable was the outpouring of love in the community as the word spread around. People in Burns’ financial situation die every day; they get by on monthly checks, and when they go, they’re cremated by the county and then forgotten.

Bobby Burns got a royal sendoff, thanks to a young friend of his, Eric Foemmel, who cared enough to mobilize the denizens of Midtown to make that happen.

Burns was a Catholic, so Foemmel called St. Francis Cathedral and told them he had a friend who had died and needed a proper Catholic funeral. He did what people who don’t know what they’re doing do—he put one foot in front of the other, and he figured everything out on the fly. He got people to canvass the bars and coffeehouses, and together they raised enough money to buy Burns a casket and pay the church.

If you’d walked into the service, held Wednesday evening a week ago at St. Francis, you might have figured it was for someone who was conventionally prominent, like the mayor. The church was packed with people, clad in everything from the traditional dark business suits to hockey uniforms. A few even dressed up like Burns.

Burns’ sister, in her 80s and in a wheelchair, showed up, as did a couple of other relatives. The rest of his family did, too, if you’re counting the huge number of people in town who were enchanted by the man, who filled the church and who gave him not one but two standing ovations.

After the service, everybody meandered over to the Press Club at 21st and P streets, one of Burns’ favorite watering holes, for what they were calling a wake. The pool table was loaded with various hors d’oeuvres, along with copies of a note castigating the Bee’s Steve Gibson—for the obituary he wrote for that paper, which many of Burns’ friends thought was snide and condescending—and asked them to write letters to the editor in protest.

Someone brought a videotaped loop of Burns playing a drum solo onstage at the Crest Theatre during a Dutch Falconi gig, which ran on a TV in the corner. It was classic Bobby—his hilarious facial mugging, his dropping a stick mid-solo and keeping the beat with one hand while he reached down with the other to retrieve it.

Burns’ old red-and-white bowling bag was passed around the packed house, to raise more money to bury him. They got the dough, and if everything went according to plan, they buried him this past Wednesday at St. Mary’s Cemetery.