Nash the Slash, that bandaged troubadour with the electric violin, has died. Details of his death are still sketchy, but surrealist Robert Vanderhorst, a friend and frequent colleague, has confirmed that Slash (nee Jeff Plewman) passed away Saturday, May 10 or Sunday, May 11. He was 66.
Slash was often a controversial figure on Toronto’s indie music scene. It wasn’t just his visage, perpetually bound in surgical tape, lending him a horror-flick panache that complemented his eerie, electrifying bowing. Nash was also an outspoken critic of mainstream music, pointing out the cliquish nature of grants, awards and funding in Canadian music. Despite fronting prog-rock trio FM and opening abroad for rock luminaries like Iggy Pop and Gary Numan, the alt-rocker felt little industry support at home, a fact he lamented earlier this year in the notice of retirement posted on his website.
“I’m proud of my remarkable 40-year career in the music biz with no hit (commercial) records,” he wrote. “As an independent artist without management, major label or support or any grants whatsoever (thank you Canada Council and Factor), I toured internationally and accomplished so much.”
It was a typical sign-off for this mercurial, fearless man. I had the pleasure of working with Nash on my first album, where he lifted a perfectly ordinary cover of kd lang’s “Constant Craving” — a song we had considered cutting — into a beautiful, haunting tribute to loss and longing. When he first appeared at the door, I was a little surprised. I guess I had expected him to show up in full face bandages, but instead I was greeted by a smiling, friendly faced, middle-aged man.
Watching Nash play his violin in the studio was both uplifting and chilling. It was a rainy night, and the lighting was low — the perfect setting. Nash’s eyes were closed, his bow caressing the strings with delicate tenderness one moment, fiery passion the next. There were no mistakes, no retakes.
I’m embarrassed to say that I never knew Nash was gay. He just seemed like a sweet-natured, blazingly intelligent man, with no hint of the love that dares not speak its name. I wasn’t there when he declared his orientation at a Pride Day performance back in 1998, nor did he discuss his personal life with me. I’d lost touch with him in recent years, though I have to admit I was slightly aghast when he threw his support behind Rob Ford for Toronto mayor.
But it was so like Nash to go his own way, not giving a toss what anyone thought of his decisions. It was an ethic that made for an eclectic, vibrant body of work and a fascinating, complex human being. Rest in peace, Nash.