My name is Will Conroy. For several years, at the turn of the century, I was a writer for Rolling Stone. For over a decade I’ve been a nervous expatriate living in Amsterdam. I have a message to send to the pop music fans of the world: Van Gaux Lives! For some of you that name may not seem familiar, but for many it conjures up a period of pop music history that intrigued millions.
Remember back in the early to mid-nineties when conspiracy theories abounded? There was Oliver Stone and his movie JFK, Elvis was sighted in every 7-11 from Maine to San Diego, and The X-Files made people think the government was responsible for hiding the existence of extraterrestrial beings. My belief in this particular conspiracy ended my journalistic career. It is only now that I dare publish this book.
What I have to tell may be more unbelievable than any of those stories. Van Firenze, better known as Van Gaux, one of the biggest pop sensations of the late nineties, propelled to stardom after a tragic death, was alive and well the whole time. He handed me the computer disks that contained the prelude that you have just read and the chapters yet to come. To set up the story properly, it’s vital to recall his amazing rise to fame after his alleged death. Later, you will read more about Van’s life, music and inspirations from his own, supposedly lost autobiography.
In late August of 1996, Van Firenze, known in the Bay Area music community as the folk-rock singer, Van Gaux, took a trip to Mendocino with his friend, and later famous actress, Lindsey Elmwood. Despondent over the recent break-in at his Berkeley apartment and the theft of his guitar, bass, keyboard, recording equipment and computer (including his recently penned autobiography), Van and Lindsey took a little vacation to ease his depression.
On a particularly foggy and windy day, the two friends took a walk out on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. According to Elmwood, Van ran ahead to look at some passing dolphins when he slipped on the rocks. He fell several hundred feet down the sheer cliff and was washed out to sea. An extensive Coast Guard search proved futile. His body was never recovered. A police investigation ensued and suicide was considered. Lindsey insisted that, although Van was depressed, he in no way meant to take his own life.
Initially his death affected few. His friends and family missed him, but Lindsey took it very hard. She had just landed the lead as the blonde temptress on the nighttime soap Brentwood Heights for ABC, which was beginning its first season. As the show took off in the ratings, Elmwood was near a nervous breakdown. She took a few weeks off and returned to Berkeley to organize a tribute concert for Van, using her own money to promote the show.
After assembling many of Van’s former band mates and musical associates, she put on a show at the fabled Freight and Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley. The show sold out and was written up in all the local newspapers.
As a music columnist for the Bay Guardian, a local weekly, I covered the concert and wrote a review. I had seen Van perform on a few occasions over a span of many years and had enjoyed his music. He had gigged on and off for over fourteen years, but never reached a level of real success. I remember thinking how ironic it was that Van was finally getting positive press, three months after his death. That was just the beginning.