Doug Fieger of The Knack dies at 57 of metastatic lung cancer

Get The Knack.jpgI was an angry 14- or 15-year-old in late 1978 or early 1979 - can't recall which year, but definitely angry - walking home on a Sunday night after a dishwasher shift at Grandma's Saucy Apron, a now-defunct Italian restaurant in my hometown where I was working to make money for a Spanish National Honor Society trip to Spain over the upcoming Spring Break.

I turned on 99X (New York City's WXLO-FM) at 9 pm for a new radio show I enjoyed from KXOA in Sacramento, CA, called The Great American Radio Show with Mike Harrison. It was the near-end of the disco era and this album-oriented rock (AOR) weekly countdown show breathed new life into my burgeoning adolescent music experience with the deeper tracks - not the top 40 hits - from bands like Dire Straits, Van Halen, and Elvis Costello and the Attractions.

On one particular night, I heard a song called "My Sharona" by an L.A. power pop band called The Knack. A simple but catchy testosterone-raged song of yearning that was deemed sexist then but seems so tame today. And an incredible lead guitar break by Berton Averre that was truncated on the single for pop radio play because it pushed the song length to an untenable four minutes and fifty-four seconds.

The lead singer of the band was a well-known musician in southern California named Doug Fieger. He was originally from Oak Park, Michigan, and played in a bunch of bands before fronting The Knack.

The artwork for their first album was sparse but classic featuring a black and white photo on the front and a Beatle-esque photo on the reverse of the band on a bright white background. "My Sharona" was number one on the Billboard top 40 list for six weeks and the album ultimately sold six million copies. You youngsters may know of the song because it was briefly rejuvenated by its inclusion in the 1994 movie, "Reality Bites."

I played my copy of Get The Knack into the ground. Not so much because of "My Sharona" or the second hit "Good Girls Don't" but because of some of the other infectious tunes like "Your Number or Your Name" and "Heartbeat," a cover of Buddy Holly's last single before he died in an Iowa plane crash in February, 1959. The less successful follow-up album "But the Little Girls Understand" was not as well-received but my take-home lesson was a cover of "The Hard Way" by The Kinks. (I put up another post here with a couple videos.).

I learned a lot more about Buddy Holly, The Kinks, and other influences of The Knack in the years following. In fact, the first rock concert I saw was The Kinks on their Low Budget tour in 1980 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Love 'em or hate 'em, Doug Fieger and The Knack were a major influence in my teenage years and sit at the foundation of my amateur musicianship.

In 2006, The Knack drummer Bruce Gary died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Yes, I'm reaching the age where my musical idols are dying of non-drug causes. Then, last month, The Detroit News published this article about Doug Fieger's battle with lung cancer and the aggressive metastases to in his brain. Fieger was one of the 60% 10-20% of lung cancer patients who either never smoked or quit smoking decades before.

Fieger seemed unusually at peace with his demise and his brother Geoffrey said there were few regrets about the life his younger sibling lived:

Whenever he leaves, he'll depart with no significant regrets. He lived the rock star life, and that was good. He got straight and sober 26 years ago and that's been good, too. It strikes him that he should have visited Egypt, and he concedes that "I may not get there." Just in case, he's been paging through a coffee-table book with big pictures.

North Carolina Public Radio state legislative correspondent Laura Leslie was the first to alert me to Fieger's death yesterday morning and Pam Spaulding turned me on to a short but heartfelt remembrance of Fieger by his friend John Amato at Crooks and Liars.

The Knack carried on as a band after Gary's death and Fieger looked awesome at age 53 in a video I saw of them playing "She's So Selfish" at World Cafe. So, his death at 57 makes it seem so premature (funny how young 57 seems today).

So, I think I'll go buy a few MP3 downloads and maybe pull out the guitar for a spell to reflect on the loss of a musician whose gifts will live on.

Visit the official webpage of The Knack for more information on the band.

The Knack single My Sharona 2.jpgUpdated Feb 16: Entertainment Weekly's Music Mix Blog has a heartfelt interview with the namesake of The Knack's big hit, Sharona Alperin. Ms. Alperin is a Los Angeles area real estate agent whose business website can be found at the aptly named Ms. Alperin dated Mr. Fieger for three years and was the model on the cover of the "My Sharona" single and the sheet music for the song.

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That's sad news.. and I was just listening to "My Sharona" the other day. It was always one of my favorite songs.

I also know what you mean about 57 years of age seeming young. It seems young to me too. I guess we've finally reached that age were we realize our own mortality. That's one of the reasons that I've recently decided to take some temporary time off from work and enjoy the fruits of my labor. One never knows what's behind that next door.

Fieger was one of 60% of lung cancer patients who either never smoked or quit smoking decades before.

That figure of 60% seems too high. From what I can see, non-smokers amount to 10% of cases in men and 20% of cases in women. I can't find the numbers for those who quit smoking "decades" earlier, but I don't think it would be a lot different.

By T. Bruce McNeely (not verified) on 15 Feb 2010 #permalink

Interestingly, his brother Geoffery is a well-known shyster attorney in SE Michigan, famously having (unsuccessfully) defended Dr. Jack Kervorkian. He got into a few shenanigans here and there for campaign finance related issues, and he's always there to pick you up after you fall on a wet floor at a business.

Doug was the much more societally useful bro.

By MonkeyPox (not verified) on 15 Feb 2010 #permalink

Nice piece. Unfortunately, the 60% stat is a complete load of garbage. It does a disservice to just how nasty smoking is, and allows so many delusional smokers to convince themselves that they are real hipsters living on the edge and will be one of the ones to beat the odds.

Correct, Bruce and Puffin, and I have made the change above. The best figures I can find on lung carcinomas in never smokers is 10-15%, for example, in this article on a 2005 American Cancer Society epidemiology study. The AACR's Clinical Cancer Research had a few articles on lung cancer in never smokers in their December 2009 issue but I can't access these right now.

Thanks for catching my mistake..

I remember a study that after 10 years there's no statistical difference between never and former smokers in new lung cancer diagnosis. So a single decade is enough to be "forgiven", at least in that regard.

Nice article; I am a big Knack and Doug fan. By the way, Doug's brother is "Geoffrey", not "Gary". It was the band's original drummer who is named "Gary", as is Bruce Gary. Otherwise, good stuff...

Any way you look at this he was murdered by the medical establishment along will countless millions of men,women and especially children. Thirty years and 200 billions dollars later in research. Put a man on the moon. Satellites in space and all the other wonderful things man has created and still no cure for cancer. This is the greatest scam that has ever been. This will far surpass the atrocities in the death camp when the truth comes out about chemo this sinister cash machine that is killing people all for a lousy dollar. Doug didn't have to die. He was better of leaving the cancer alone. Cancer is a natural occurring process in the human body all 6 billions humans have cancer in their bodies. They created a atmosphere of fear around it telling you that you will die so you take the chemo being your only hope you have to live when in reality its the chemo that kill him along with the radiation. The cancer never kills you, its the chemo that kills you and then they blame the cancer.If he would have left it alone and changed his diet to only natural organic foods his body would have healed itself and Doug would have lived to a ripe old age.

Beautiful tribute to Doug and Bruce. I to was a teen in 79 listening to this incredible music! So sad Doug and Bruce are gone but their music will live on forever!!!R.I.P. Doug and Bruce

By alicia pilotta (not verified) on 12 Jul 2010 #permalink