Doug Fieger, the leader of The Knack, died from cancer on Valentine’s Day. He was 57.
I had first heard the local buzz about this fast rising L. A. band riding the crest of the New Wave music movement in the late 1970s. I knocked off work one night to catch The Knack at Madame Wong’s East, a small club in L. A.’s Chinatown.
The Knack were just as good as their buzz if not better. They led off their set with what would become their biggest hit, the magnificent and compelling “My Sharona.” This song, with its driving oompa beat, would become their signature number.
That night The Knack (despite a nearly empty house) were extremely high energy, bursting with charisma and an infectious enthusiasm. Since there was barely a crowd, they exuberantly played both for us and each other. It was hard to take my eyes off of Doug; physically, Doug was a sort of handsome version of Pete Townshend. He radiated the sheer devilish mischievousness of youth. They did several covers that never made it to their LPs, my favorite being the Jay & the Americans song, “Come A Little Bit Closer.” They closed their brisk set with — what else? — a second playing of “My Sharona.”
They were dressed in what would become almost a New Wave uniform: skinny black trousers, white business shirts and long skinny black ties. Doug later told me he got their wardrobe from my old bandmates, The Heaters (Doug was good friends with The Heaters, wrote and recorded songs with The Heaters’ brilliantly talented Melissa Connell and played on some of The Heaters’ band members’ later recordings).
The Knack became a rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon. In what seemed like a blistering short blip of time, the national success of “My Sharona” (and their non-stop energy and charisma) had them headlining gigantic arenas across the country.
Although The Knack continued to produce plenty of fine subsequent work, the band fell from the public’s fickle attention almost as quickly as it had risen.
Despite the public’s short attention span and a heroic conquering of issues that led Doug to be a prominent force within AA in helping his fellow musicians, Doug never lost his optimistic spirit.
I got to know Doug a little bit in the past few years. We were introduced by Harold Bronson, my long time friend and the co-founder of Rhino Records. No introduction was necessary, however. I loved The Knack, Doug’s writing and his onstage persona. It turned out, unknown to me, that he was a huge fan of my art.
We were together at Harold’s for a screening of the outstanding Showtime Brian Wilson documentary, Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile. I had met Brian and was there on the historic night when Brian “rejoined” the Beach Boys to perform live with them at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, something the reclusive Brian had not done for years, preferring the solitude and control of the studio.
Doug had worked with Brian, helping this troubled soul on a number of projects. We were both really looking forward to this documentary.
Doug asked if he could sit next to me during the screening. Prior to the dimming of the lights, Doug and I carried on our conversation regarding New Wave’s heyday, catching up on what had happened to our various mutual friends.
Harold’s home theater darkened and the film began.
I was not prepared for the deeply touching nature of this film. Neither was Doug. In the middle of this profoundly moving feature, I happened to turn to Doug as he turned to me. Tears were streaming down our faces. We emotionally smiled in acknowledgment of each others’ deep feelings for Brian and returned our gaze to the screen.
That night was the last time I saw Doug, although I tried to contact him on numerous occasions when I learned of his cancer battle. All of the second hand reports I got on Doug were both encouraging and devastating. It seemed as if as soon as one tumor had finally been destroyed, several more would appear. Throughout all of this, Doug remained optimistic and amazingly cheerful.
Last month, Doug told the Detroit News (Doug was born in Detroit), “I’ve had ten great lives. And I expect to have some more. I don’t feel cheated in any way, shape or form.”
You were one of the very talented Good Guys I have known, Doug. May you Rest In Peace until another version of this world welcomes your return.