The body of my friend, former bandmate, and occasional commenter here at the blog Dennis Cossens, was discovered by his landlord today in Cincinnati, a few weeks before what would have been his 55th birthday. Dennis was a diabetic since his childhood, and his health had wobbled back and forth in recent years, but this was not anticipated. He leaves a son, Kiefer, and two sisters. Kiefer was the one who let me know this afternoon.
I met Dennis in early 1986, in the first of my two semesters at Northern Kentucky U after Transy gave me the boot. I was walking across a parking lot with a mutual friend, and I noticed a guy wearing a Ronnie James Dio T-shirt. This gave me a conversational in, and we immediately bonded over loud, fast music. It turned out that Dennis was in the University’s Honors Program, and after I talked my way into the program, we started hanging out on a daily basis. The connection became even stronger when we realized that his sister was married to a good friend of mine from high school.
I learned pretty soon that he had a background in piano, and I talked him into getting a keyboard and starting a band with a couple of other guys. We called ourselves Black Rose (yeah, I know — but none of us had even turned 21 yet) and wrote our own material. Specifically, I wrote the lyrics while the other guys put the music together. We were on the verge of looking for gigs when I was accepted into grad school at UK, and after I left, the guys got a new drummer, changed the group’s name, and played a few shows around Northern Kentucky. When I could, I’d drive up from Lexington to go see them.
If you’ve ever been in a band for any length of time, you know how tight the relationships are, and even when we weren’t playing, Dee and I hung out almost constantly. The Mad Dog was in the Navy for much of that time, and so Dennis and I were pretty much a constant tag team when I was in Northern KY, both before I graduated and when I would come back to town on weekends during grad school. Likewise, he came to Lexington from time to time and would come to shows, even though the Groovy Kool were decidedly not what he was into. His taste ran more toward music that emphasized technical skill, the sort of thing that we used to call shredding and nowadays gets called prog-metal. So we’d hang out, listening to lots of that, along with music that amused us both, like Motorhead and the Misfits. I turned him onto Blue Cheer and Zappa — he got me into Tony MacAlpine, Queensryche, and Michael Schenker. And we spent a lot of late nights at a 24-hour chili parlor in Florence, KY, about five miles from my house in Union. He was with me the first time I saw Motorhead in 1986, beside me in the front row at an Alice Cooper show, and with my girlfriend and me on my 21st birthday when we saw Yngwie Malmsteen opening for Triumph. (I worked at Sears in the department that operated Ticketmaster, so we went to quite a few shows.) Later, a lightly disguised version of him would appear in Broken Glass Waltzes, as Kenny’s friend and bandmate Chris. All the time we knew each other, he kept a sense of humor, though his sense of humor was never quite as bleak as mine. Still, we knew that everything was fair game for a laugh, something that kept us both going from time to time.
We found another common passion in baseball, specifically the Reds. Even though we were hanging together during a low point in the franchise’s activity, we frequently went to games, buying tickets for the cheap seats and illegally working our way down to better ones when we could. For some reason, it seemed like nearly every time we went, Jerry Reuss was the starting pitcher and would get shelled, but Reuss only played for the Reds for part of 1987, so we certainly saw others as well. The last time we chatted — a few weeks ago — we talked about the Reds’ ingoing struggle, but we were content in the knowledge that we remembered the Vern Rapp years, and that it wasn’t going to be that bad.
Dennis was a math major — a lightning calculator and whiz at equations. Ideally, he would have found a job with the Elias Sports Bureau or something along those lines. But after he graduated, he drifted from job to job, seemingly never quite finding what he was looking for. His longest stretch was a few years he spent as a math teacher at the high school in his home town, where he himself had graduated. However, health issues and conflict with the administration forced him out of the job. He had taken a lot of satisfaction in his work, but never went back into the field. His health issues made it difficult for him to stay in a position for a long run, but I think there was a fair amount of restlessness at work there, too. At the end of his life, he worked in the insurance business as an annuity specialist.
He stayed with music, though. After I finished the Masters and came back to the Cincinnati area, three of us from Black Rose reconvened with a new bassist and singer. The new group, called Crushing Flowers, was another original project, and occupied an odd intersection between goth and hard rock. We played a number of shows in Cincinnati’s University District (and we were invited back to every venue we played), and one live broadcast on a community radio station. Our last show was at the Cincinnati Zoo, at a party sponsored by the publisher I worked for. We were both married by then, so we didn’t hang out as much as we once did, but we were in the same neighborhood, and would get together when we could. Then Clan Mondo headed off to Muncie and my Ph.D., and we kept up with each other, but life, jobs, and (on his part) a couple of unsuccessful marriages got in the way.
The last time we were in the same room was in 2013, when I was in Northern KY for my brother’s trial. Mrs. M and the Spawn were stuck in Mondoville for a while before they were able to come up, so Dennis and I would get together some evenings (he worked during the days) for dinner at a Chinese buffet or another chili joint. The death of my parents hit him really hard — it did a lot of people, of course, but he told me that he couldn’t imagine coming to the trial, seeing my brother, and thinking about what had happened. Of course, since he was at work, he didn’t have to, but he did make sure I was doing okay.
He kept playing in bands, mostly hard rock cover bands, and while he enjoyed the technical demands of the music he was doing, he also developed an issue with alcohol. This resulted in a couple of DUI arrests and some jail time, but that apparently did the trick, and he stayed sober thereafter, even trying to help some former students with addiction issues of their own.
But again, his health got in the way. He developed a condition called Dupuytren’s Contracture, causing his fingers to flex uncontrollably, and a similar problem with tendons in his hands called trigger finger. He had surgery to correct the condition, but it was only partially successful, Rather than wait for him to recover, his band replaced him — he never got over that. I don’t know if he would ever have gotten back into playing shape; he had his doubts, but he would have appreciated the chance. Even if he wouldn’t have been able to play keyboards any longer, he was giving serious thought to looking for singing gigs.
Despite all this, he generally kept a good attitude, and hoped to find another love, a new musical avenue, and satisfaction, not necessarily in that order. And that’s where he was when we lost him sometime this week. I hate thinking of him lying there alone.
Obviously, none of this was anything I wanted to think about today, and I hate knowing that the world is once more a little less funny, a little less smart, and a little less talented. I hate knowing that like so many people, he deserved better than he got. But that’s what happens. Leaves fall, and lights go out. I’m glad I got to know him when he was here — I wish you could have, too.