Posted July, 2010
Bruce, Mr. & Mrs. Kulick, and Bob Kulick - Photo Courtesy of Bruce Kulick
Parents. When you think about it, we all have them. Some of us are parents. It is, without a doubt, the most challenging but potentially rewarding job on earth. As a parent of a beautiful daughter who will soon turn 26, I can shout a loud “amen” to those observations . . . and wouldn’t trade them (the challenges or the rewards) for all the money in the world.
What about OUR parents? Many of us who make up the Baby Boomer Generation have lost or are beginning to face the eventual loss of our parents. We are now realizing that our parents, nor we, are immortal and it’s very sobering to come to that realization.
I have talked to many people who have faced or are about to face the loss of a parent. Their perspectives are wide ranging. After a lot of observation, one thing that I’ve come to realize is that many of those people like to talk about their parents and want others to know about their mom and/or dad.
With that as a backdrop, I recently read where rock guitarist, Bruce Kulick, lost his father, Harry, after 91 great years of life. One morning, while preparing for my day, a thought came to me out of the blue: Maybe Bruce would want to tell the world about his dad? I wondered what kind of person Mr. Kulick was. What kind of work did he do? How did Bruce view his dad, both when he (Bruce) was a kid and in the last years of Mr. Kulick’s life?
The thought wouldn’t go away and, ultimately, a second Boomerocity interview with Bruce was the result. During that phone conversation, I asked Bruce if he would prefer to tell his father’s story and I transcribe (the safest route) or did he want me to ask him questions (potentially risky). I was surprised that he preferred that I ask him questions.
As an interviewer, I prefer to make the process a positive one for those interviewed as well as a positive “read” for you, the reader. I don’t like to open old wounds or prolong one’s grief. Prior to my call with Bruce, I carefully considered and prepared the type of questions I would ask in the event he preferred to go that route. I’m glad I was prepared.
I asked Bruce what first comes to mind when he thinks of his dad.
“You know, it’s interesting, there was something that came up at the service where the Rabbi that was there asked my Mom, ‘Why did you fall in love with Harry?’ and her reaction was, ‘He was kind.’ I used to see my parents interact in the typical Seinfeld/Jewish kind of way, with them always fighting and arguing over stupid stuff, just like a sitcom, but they loved each other. They were there for each other. Sixty-two years married!
“But he was a kind man that, when I took him to a doctor’s office or when we had an errand like that for something he needed as towards the end of his life as doctor and health trips were important, he was SO sweet to everyone he met. At home, he was happy in the house watching TV and going to his three meals. That’s what happens when you’re in an assisted living place. Thank God, he was mostly independent – like 85% independent – he needed very little help, which is really a miracle for how old he was and the fact that he was born with some disabilities. His left hand didn’t work right and he walked kind of funny, too. That all happened from birth.
“So, the fact that he could live that many years, bring up two healthy sons, work for many, many years for the government – for 35 years – all of that was a testament of his hard work ethic.
“So, I think of that, but I also think of his ‘kind’ thing. He was always sweet to the office lady. Yeah, he had a temper and I knew about that, too, when he was cranky and someone didn’t do something the way he wanted them to do it. But, in general, he was very jovial and almost flirtatious with the nurses and to the doctors in a very funny way. He would brag about his sons and what he did for the government – you know - the work stuff. I found all of that quite charming.
“As much as I didn’t think he had a lot on his plate, I guess he did in his own mind. He had lots to talk about.”
When I asked Bruce what kind of government work Mr. Kulick did, his obvious pride for his dad really showed.
“It was interesting because he would tell people – he broke it down to the simplest thing: ‘I worked for NASA.’ Okay, he did in a way. But, what he did was he was a Quality Control Engineer. The government hires a research and development firm to make something for either an aircraft carrier system or for something needed for NASA’s Apollo 8 spacecraft. The contracts were huge even back in those days. They could be a millions of dollars to create something that belongs on the aircraft carrier or for NASA. So basically, the company wouldn’t get paid unless they did the right thing. My father was there to supervise it and sign off on it, so his office would be at one of these places that they really had to kiss his ass, shall we say.”
Continuing his memories of his father’s work, Kulick shared a story about going to his Dad’s workplace. “It was really wonderful: this one time I got to see my dad at work and I got to see the respect that he got from the people there because it was always a little bit of a mystery what he did. I knew he did something at a plant but, again, when it was hinging upon his signature whether or not they get paid, obviously, the government trusted my Dad to do the right thing and make sure the item worked the way it was supposed to. I’m sure the place was nervous because they were going to want the money. It meant the world to me to finally see him in his work element. As opposed to the home “man of the house” which in many Jewish homes is just kind of funny fighting with the wife!
“And, because of that – I put it into the memorial picture when I did the poster board with my girlfriend – they gave him a piece of metal from the moon when the Apollo 8 went there.
“It’s funny, in his little bag of stuff that he had when he would talk about what he did, he actually had one of the items from one of the – I believe that place had to make a urine bag for the space suits – he actually had a sample of one, which I thought was pretty funny. But, when you think about it, something as simple as that really has to be pretty complex, in a way, or, at least, extremely expensive.”
The loss of a loved one often shades how we think of them. I asked Bruce if this memory of his dad was different from the one he had before his father passed away.
“In some ways. We have a small family. My uncle Sy came out from New York. There were times when things came up – just talking to the Rabbi a little bit about my Dad, I would say, ‘I didn’t know that!’, you know what I mean?
“So, a couple of pieces of the puzzle of my dad’s life had come together a little bit; more information about my grandparents. I guess, in some ways, I feel much more complete and, to be honest, I didn’t need to make any peace with my Dad right before he died. I was very close to him the last ten years they’ve been living out here in LA, and each year was like a blessing with him. I was just always shocked that he kept hanging in there. He had some difficult health issues and he was able to beat it. It was always amazing.
Kulick continues, “I just guess that I have a little more complete picture. And, doing that very large presentation with close to fifty items on
Mr. & Mrs. Kulick in 1982 - Photo Courtesy of Bruce Kulick
there, of his life – photos and things – it was really nice to see that. Obviously, it told a story from when he was a little child to grown up and even into his senior years. It was a great idea. My girlfriend did it when her father passed away about ten years ago and she suggested it. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ I already had a lot of vintage pictures on my computer already but now it’s like, ‘Okay, let’s scan some more and let’s go find some more at my mom’s.
“It was a nice a mission and I really appreciate my girlfriend doing it with me. That kind of really told his story and I was very glad to share it with my friends and, actually, the world by putting it up on the internet. My Dad wasn’t a public person like his son. People didn’t really know much about him.”
Bruce shared what it was like growing up as a kid with Harry Kulick as his Dad.
“He worked a lot, but I bonded with him a little more than my brother did. My brother was into sports and because my Dad had that handicap with his hand and all, he wasn’t going to be athletic. So, my Uncle did some of those kinds of things with my brother. I didn’t care for sports that much. Personally, playing it (sports) I was like, ‘I’m going to get hurt!’ you know, and I want my fingers safe!
“I used to be much more into the electronics stuff which has helped me with the guitars and amps and pedals and that kind of thing. It’s not that I build things. Back then I was more fascinated with electronics and part of my Dad’s job was a basic understanding of radio electronics and things like that. I remember that we made walkie talkies together. I still have them. They look, actually, really pristine. It’s crazy.
“Then, I remember a school project for the science fair. I had to come up with a binary computer. I remember at first that it didn’t work and I was really upset. I was probably ten or eleven. I was crying and upset. He had someone at the plant that he went to show him what might have gone wrong. The next thing you know, it worked! Dad was certainly a hero to me right then, which is really nice because it’s certainly not something my mother could help with. She was your typical housewife and cook and her part time job was bookkeeping that she did very well at but she wasn’t going to fix an electronic something that you had to solder and put resistors and light bulbs in. That was kind of fun growing up with him with that; my road race set – I really loved that.
“And, again, Bob (Bruce’s brother who is a Grammy Award winning producer and guitarist) was really more into other kinds of stuff so I was always able to bond with him (Bruce’s father). We were lucky enough to have one of those Lionel train sets and my Dad was into setting that up and we used to play with that. So, as much as he couldn’t play ball with me, I didn’t care about that. I really loved all of the other stuff that he was able to do with me.
I asked Bruce if there was anything about his father’s childhood and upbringing that affected how he raised Bruce and his brother.
“I guess. I mean, I bet my Grandma really babied him because of the fact that he had an affliction. I mean, again, I think that he did the best that he could. We grew up in New York City so we weren’t out in a country setting or anything like that. And, one thing that I think is part of our family is just that working hard ethic and he certainly got that from my grandparents, too. My grandfather always owned his own business – a dry cleaning business that was very successful. Later on he used to do the Yankee’s uniforms in the Bronx.”
All Dad’s give their kids lots of advice. I asked Bruce what was the best advice that Mr. Kulick gave him.
“Well, I know that he was a perfectionist and, when you think about it, if he’s being paid by the government, you don’t sign off of something unless it’s right. I always kind of had that over my shoulder. Sometimes, that’s a little tough because sometimes things aren’t good enough, you know what I mean? But I certainly strive for – if I put my name on something - I really strive for it to be something that I’m proud of. Excellence. I prefer that to being lazy about it. I guess that he might have instilled that.
“I really do appreciate the fact that he worked so hard all those years. He’d leave early in the morning, go to work and provide for his family. That might sound like a common or very easy thing to do but you know how many really bad parents there are out there who totally don’t take care of their children and don’t look out for them? So, I’m happy that he was a good Dad.”
When I asked Bruce how his Dad influenced his career, his reply comes back around to the inherent kindness of his Mr. Kulick’s nature.
“I think that I take after him in some ways. I’m kind to people, in general. I mean, I have my cranky moments, too. But, I prefer – I think honey works better than spice and I think that’s something my Dad always kind of felt. So, I don’t know if it’s something he taught me or if it’s something that just came natural to me. I will say that I was always happy to see him be jovial in the offices, even as old as he was. He’d come to a doctor’s office and he was so funny and sweet.
“Everybody would always say, ‘Your father is SO sweet!’ You know, that kind of thing. Even the nurses – unless he was obviously in pain, then he would sometimes get a little cranky – they, in general, thought he was a really sweet man.”
Bruce’s style of music isn’t exactly in the vein of Sinatra or Welk so I asked Bruce what did his Dad comment most on about his son’s work?
“Well, it was interesting. With my last record, BK3, when my parents listened to it, it was my father who said, ‘That’s Bruce singing!’ You know, I was really impressed that he knew. My mother wasn’t sure and she had to check the credits. She told me that, actually.
“We didn’t really talk about the record. It was pretty common for Bob and I to go, ‘Here’s the last CD. I hope you like it’ kind of thing. Because I know they know how to work their CD player but we didn’t know how much time they really would dig into a rock record. They would probably rather listen to Sinatra or something.
“Most of the time they watched TV even though music was a big part of their lives, they weren’t the type to put on a favorite record or something like that. They had certain artists that they were fans of. But, I found that (his Dad recognizing Bruce’s voice on BK3) really, really interesting and I was really glad that he was able to tell my mom, ‘That’s Bruce singing!’ That was pretty remarkable for me to hear.
Building up to his answer to my question, Kulick continues, “I don’t want to make it sound – even though he had some musical ability and he played trumpet when he was younger – I have the trumpet here in my home – and not that I even really had the chance to hear him play more than a couple of notes years ago, because it wasn’t his career, he didn’t keep it up. But, he never was ‘instructional’ about any of my music. He knew that I had all of the really good help that I could – at my disposal to do. There were plenty of opportunities, between school and the lessons I took, that I was learning all the right stuff. Plus, I had a good instinct for it anyway.”
With Harry Kulick’s career in a specialized and “brainy” area, I was pretty sure that he didn’t encourage Bruce to a career in rock and roll. Maybe Bruce could become a doctor or something.
“From what I understood from my uncle, originally, they weren’t keen that my brother had started playing guitar. But, I guess, by the time Bob started doing it and the world didn’t end, by the time I wanted to pick up the guitar, I didn’t hear any aggravation at all. Now, I didn’t know that. I always thought they were kind of cool about it but they WERE concerned with Bob. You’ve got to remember that he was the oldest son so, of course, he’s going to have some of the brunt of the harder stuff. It always happens that way.”
For a man who was 91 years young, I was very curious what Harry Kulick’s view of the world was in the months leading up to his passing. Before I could even finish my question, Bruce started laughing.
“Oh, I’ve got a perfect quote for you. He used to tell my girlfriend before we’d take off – he knew that we didn’t really live that far – I live very close to them – he would go, ‘Watch out for those crazies!’ I think he knew that it could be a dangerous world and that things are kind of crazy out there and that you’ve got to watch yourself.”
I asked Bruce what his Dad’s reaction was to all the changes in the world, especially in the areas of technology.
“You know, I would show him my iTouch and things like that. Although we didn’t get into a whole lot of what things are about, he got the idea of the cell phone and I remember I was in the car with him and, at first, he probably didn’t know what I was doing talking to myself when you have the Bluetooth on. It certainly wasn’t a hard thing for him (to understand).
“In some ways, in his later years, if his fingers worked better, I could have probably showed him some things on the computer and things like that. But it was a struggle just for him to turn on the machine for his breathing treatment. That’s what happens when you get older. Just turning a light thing on – a lamp – can be hard for older people – arthritis and things like that. That’s what I’m saying: for the past two or the past five years, I’d be in wonderment as to how he gets around and to be able to do everything. It was a real testament to his real strength to wanting to live. Because, we wouldn’t think people can deal with all of those adversities in life, between using the oxygen and getting up from your chair. Fortunately, his brain didn’t go wacko.”
I delicately asked Bruce if his dad was fully, completely and mentally “there” right up until the end.
“Yes. I mean, there were times in the hospital with the medication where they would give him some morphine and some pain things where he would talk some wild stuff. He was in a dream state then. I was able to always have a fairly, reasonably cognizant conversation with him for which I was really glad. I mean, there was a little bit of senior dementia. I don’t want to make you think that, at 91, he was always perfectly ‘there’. But, for the most part, he understood everything. Sometimes, even with a hearing aid, he couldn’t understand. But he could once I was clearer with him and broke it down to something really basic.
“Even my Mom is really ‘with it’. She’ll forget that she might have told me something already, when she tells me later. But, for 86, she’s not doing badly, either.”
I had to ask Bruce the obvious question: What did his Dad think when he went to work for KISS?
“You know, he knew about them because my brother worked with them years ago. He knew that they were businessmen and smart Jewish guys. He’d come see me and would be beaming from ear-to-ear. He was just thrilled.”
With our time close to running out, I asked Kulick what attributes of his dad’s did he hope to have “when you grow up”? Bruce’s answer is introspective and full of careful thought that had already taken place before our call.
“I think he’s already instilled in me the work ethic and the kindness and making people comfortable and making them laugh and doing the best at your job and taking things to the highest level of excellence. I have to say he has totally instilled all of those good character traits in me. And I will continue doing them in his honor and out of respect to how he worked with me and showed me through his life.”
With Harry Kulick’s passing still fresh in his family’s hearts, I had to ask how Mrs. Kulick was doing under the circumstances.
“You know, she was so incredibly blessed to have him for so many years. To be honest, I think that the last couple of years were difficult because of him. He certainly had more health problems and all. But she’s okay. She has a void in the house. She doesn’t have to worry about what’s going to happen with my dad, that kind of thing. So, she’s been really strong about it.
I wrapped up our call by asking Bruce what do he wanted the world to know about Mr. Kulick.
“Well, you know, it was a lesson that the Rabbi took from that discussion with my mom. This particular Rabbi – we had two of them at the service because even the one from the first place that they moved to in California came for the service which was really sweet and he spoke about my Dad at the burial site – he made a point about that kindness.
Photo Courtesy of Bruce Kulick
“You know, some people think that, if you’re kind to other people, it’s a sign of weakness. But, it’s not. The Rabbi was making a point that kindness is really a wonderful gift that they can give to each other. When I posted that on my Facebook page, somebody wrote, ‘Kindness is not weakness. Remember that.’ People were thinking powerful things.
“And, then, the people who you know are ‘not on the right page’, they’re either drinking or doing bad behavior, they’re problem is that they’re not kind to themselves, first. Because loving yourself gives you a tremendous capacity to love others and extend yourself. Some people, I think, because they realize that “I’m not good to myself but if I focus on helping an animal, my pet, my neighbor, my friends’ maybe it takes them away from their own pain. I think that you can be kind, with all good intentions, and there’s no ulterior motive except that you know it’s something that really helps the world.”
I was struck by those final comments. When it’s all said and done, “kindness” is the legacy. Mr. Kulick’s kindness to his co-workers, his business associates, doctors, nurses and guests is certainly a great legacy. However, in the privacy of one’s home, when the family saw each other for what they really are, to be able to STILL say that Harry Kulick embodies “kindness”? What better legacy can a man leave his family but to inspire the same kind of love and kindness?
From where I sit, Harry Kulick sounds like he was the consummate rock star of dad’s. I’m certain that his wife and sons think of him that way.
Shalom, Mr. Kulick.