Because they’re dead.
Yes, that’s right, one of S.F.’s most notorious indie rockers has the creepiest, coolest straight career in town: he caddies for none other than The Grim Reaper, and he’s damn proud of it. As owner and operator of his own First Call/Removal Business called Mortuary Accommodations for the past five years, Gil is the man with the van and the gurneys who transports the dead. Sometimes it’s local, other times he enjoys the longer, better paying hauls—like the one recently where he drove a body from Santa Barbara up to Redding to a final resting place in a military cemetery.
Grieving loved ones at the morgue, retirement homes, hospices and gravesides know him as the no-nonsense but often very compassionate guy trying to make the process of death easier for everyone. What they don’t know is that his experiences help him as a singer by freeing his emotions and allowing him to take down his guard. “There’s a certain sense of importance when people are dealing with the death of a loved one,” he says. “It breaks them down and makes them more vulnerable to the emotions of life. Getting close to that can only inspire me to get more in touch with my own feelings and vulnerabilities.
“In a sense, what I do is a weird gig because people in Western culture are freaked out by death,” he adds. “But I feel like I’m always doing something good, helping people cope. When you show up on a site, whether it’s a peaceful or more tragic violent death, someone will be freaking out, and I sometimes have to double as a psychologist, balancing compassion for them with being able to walk away emotionally. Over time, I’ve realized that death is a part of life, not something to be feared. Everyone thinks we’re all afraid of dying, but from my perspective, we’re all even more afraid of truly living.”
As uninhibited as Gil is in talking about his job experiences, he’s equally upfront about the downward cycle of alcohol and speed addictions that got him close various times to The Reaper himself. After a rock bottom meltdown, from a paranoid state where he literally felt “chased out of San Francisco by speed demons,” he went clean and sober down in Santa Barbara and got a gig answering phones at a mortuary. He started pushing coffins around in the building and later started driving them, which became both therapeutic and a way to reintegrate into reality.
“The first coroner call was a 20 year old kid who relapsed right out of rehab and OD’d,” he says. “I looked at the face and body like it was a mirror to my own. He failed at his second chance, but I wasn’t going to. My first decomp case was a corpse that had been dead for three weeks. The smell is awful and the coroners sit around and smoke cigars to block it. The first sheriff’s call was a bloody accident where I had to cut the body free with scissors. The cops there didn’t know that just weeks before, I was a speed freak rock singer. Even though I’m more into the less messy business of transport now, I always felt those gross out type jobs were things I was being pushed along to experience. I learned a lot of lessons about myself and life.
“It all makes me more philosophical about everything,” Gil adds. “I’ve come to understand that everything we do in life is connected to death on a lot of levels. I don’t think matter can ever be fully destroyed, it just transforms into something else. Why should we fear what is natural? To me, there’s a certain beauty to death. More tragic than anything I’ve witnessed is rolling through life and never truly doing what you always wished you had done. As a result, I’m through with regrets. I’d rather die trying than spend my life wondering what if.”