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Brief Lives: The Story of Three Victims of the Who's Cincinnati Disaster

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Everyone laughs at the mere mention of Pips. He could get away with anything, and often did, they agree, because of his smile. He could make up a word or a phrase on the spot to drain the tension out of any situation. Like when somebody got hyper, he would command, "Alleviate yourself from rheumatic discomfort," only real fast so you could hardly understand what he was saying. Or when something got in his way, he would call it an "uncool reality."

"He used to call me an uncool reality," says Mrs. Votaw, who wears wire-rim glasses and appears much younger than her forty years. "He was very frustrating to be the mother of. He was always inviting twenty of his friends over when I needed to work. He was quite stubborn."

After the Who's Cincinnati Concert Disaster, A Promoter Under Fire

"I think you were both stubborn," pronounces his little sister, Ellen.

"Did he have any idea what he wanted to do with his life?" I ask.

"He was talking about going to truck-driving college," says Bob Becker.

"His mother wanted him to go to regular college," says Mrs. Votaw. "I think he felt he had too much education at home. His father is a linguistics professor, his stepfather is going back to school for another master's, and I teach reading and writing. But I think he would have become interested in something eventually."

The kids drift off around ten and Mrs. Votaw gives me a tour of the house. At the end of the living room is a case once full of her doll collection that was recently decimated by burglars. She points to a small sculpture of a hot-air balloon suspended from the ceiling. "You know what that is?" she asks, leaving me stumped.

"It's a toilet bulb," she says. "One day the toilet wouldn't flush. I checked the mechanism, and sure enough, the bulb was gone. I asked Stephan what had happened, and he said he was using it to make my Christmas present. I asked, 'Why didn't you buy another bulb?' and he said he didn't have any money, so I ended up paying for a new one.

"He was quite a talented sculptor, actually. Art was the only subject he liked in high school. In everything else, he did the absolute minimum to pass. He would say, 'I know I'm smart and I don't have to prove it to anyone."'

She takes me to Pips' bedroom with some trepidation. The bed is an old mattress on the floor, well below the waterline from the flood of molding sweat socks, street signs, rumpled posters and dogeared magazines on the floor. Fading paisley bedspreads hang from the ceiling. A collage of dope pictures dominates the left wall.

"I want you to know why you're here," she says, standing in the middle of the wreckage. "Some of the broadcast media have behaved like vultures through this, sending film crews in trucks to cover the funerals, always sticking microphones in our faces. Every time they did a simple news update, they would show a paramedic beating on someone's chest. But I decided to let you in my house because Rolling Stone was Pips' favorite magazine."

For neither the first nor the last time on this story, my own eyes fill up with tears.

"My husband said Pips was smiling when he identified the body at the morgue," she says. "I think he died peacefully, because he was helping those girls. I think he lived a pleasant life. Ellen opened the little blue box before the funeral. She picked the best picture of Macska and put it in the casket."

Mrs. Votaw rearranges some rubble on Pips' dresser and continues. "I never understood his music. When I grew up, I was interested in ballet and theater. But I'll have to learn about rock & roll now. I won't allow his death to be in vain. Someone else's greed killed him, and it must not happen again."

We turn to leave, stopping short when I see a photograph of four Hell's Angels beating a man to death with pool cues.

"My God," I falter. "He taped a picture of Altamont over his door. He couldn't have been more than nine."

"Altamont?" asks Pips' mother. "What's that?"

This story is from the January 24th, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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