I met Gina Brooks, a.k.a. Rock And Roll Gina, about a decade ago. I was still at WSOU at the time, and I’d started a specialty show called Blurred Visions [now on Mondays from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m., Ed.] to play stoner rock and doom metal, and she was a fan. Big time. It’s a small group of people in the New York area into that kind of music, which, to be honest, is part of the appeal, and Gina reached out to me pretty much on a weekly basis, to recommend bands, talk about shows, make requests, and generally show her support.
When I started at The Aquarian, Gina read my columns. When my band played shows, she came. When other bands played shows, she went and we met up and hung out. When I went to Metal Maniacs, she read that, and when Maniacs shit the bed, and I was a mostly-unemployed music blogger, she kept up with that. Gina was one of the most supportive people I ever met, and it wasn’t just me. Gina believed in making good music the center of your existence. Her passion for it and her drive to make it a part of her life are things I will envy until the end of my days.
Gina told me she had lung cancer at a show—of course. I don’t remember who was playing, but it was between bands the now-defunct Ace Of Clubs in Manhattan. This was shortly before the entire underground decided it could no longer afford city rent and moved to Brooklyn. Or maybe after. I don’t know the timeline. Anyway, the club was playing Clutch’s self-titled record and Gina said she had the cancer, and that she was going to treat it holistically because pharmaceutical companies were profit machines poisoning people, and have you read this study, and so on and so forth.
She didn’t have health insurance, is what it came down to.
If you ever want your heart broken, see Gina in her leather jacket with just the tinge of desperation telling me she doesn’t want anyone to know she’s sick because they’d treat her differently. And the few of us who did know did just that. It’s not an option when someone is sick like she was sick. You want to wish them well. You want to ask if there’s anything you can do, anything they need. It’s terrible to be on the receiving end of that, to be identified not as a person, but a sick person, more illness than human. But she was.
She died last Thursday, Dec. 1, and on Friday, I and a smattering of the group of people I’ve come to think of as the “NYC faithful”—though none of them actually live in New York—attended her funeral service. The holistic thing, the no health insurance thing, killed her. In the time she spent chasing down essential oils and removing toxins, she should have been poisoning herself with medicine, with chemo, and living. She had gotten so frail, and then stopped showing up altogether. I hadn’t been to a show in three months and not missed her; conspicuous in her absence.
She’s the second person I’ve known who died in 2011 who didn’t go to doctors because they couldn’t afford it. And every time I watch the republican debates (I think they’re up to three a week), and they stand there, detached from it all and talk about how a public option is Stalinism or whatever ridiculous dogma their masters have handed down to them that day, it’s fucking disgusting. Nobody says these are people. On either side. Nobody says they need help. They just let them die.
By the end, Gina had been going to real doctors, presumably because the holistics weren’t working, but it was the time she lost that made the difference.
I don’t care who you are, Gina rocked harder than you rock. She was a great friend, one of the most loyal and honorable people I’ve ever known, and someone whose love of music made her a more complete person. She deserved better than she got.