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For over 35 years, Steve Trager stood between musicians and their fans. The House of Blues, The Paradise, The Worcester Centrum: He checked tickets by front doors and backstage passes by dressing rooms.
Security is brawny work. But Steve wasn’t brawny; he was colorful.
He wore rows of rings like ornamental brass knuckles, and the hair missing from his head landed in a luxuriant handlebar mustache. When it came to crowd control, he applied personality rather than force. Steve could persuade anyone, under the sway of any class of substance, into better behavior.
When it came to crowd control, he applied personality rather than force. Steve could persuade anyone, under the sway of any class of substance, into better behavior.
"He was just the kind of guy that leaned forward into every conversation," recalled his friend Barbara Wyse. "He’d be more likely to talk your ear off than to hit it."
She knew the late-night side of him — but also, the side that swam diligently everyday, and that loved talking current events or collecting Star Trek memorabilia.
Steve always said if he were going to write a memoir, he would call it "A Footsoldier In The Halls of Rock 'n' Roll”. He was an encyclopedia, and a minor celebrity himself, who fans sometimes sent nude photos to. It was great material.
But instead, Steve threw himself into a different biography. Over half a century earlier, his father had been one of the World War II Flying Tigers, a group of crack American pilots fighting for the Chinese Air Force against Japan. Somehow, Steve found his father’s notebooks and photographs, and after he grew ill, these became his life project. It was his father’s past, not his own, that he wanted to memorialize. He organized all the Flying Tiger belongings into a collection and personally donated it to the Smithsonian Museum.
As cancer spread, other unexpected goals emerged. He wanted to meet Rachel Maddow and talk with her about current events. He wanted a brick with his name on it in the Aerospace Museum. Making these happen needed help — but he had no children and wasn’t married.
“There were certain friends that just coalesced when he was sick,” Wyse said. “They came out of the woodwork for him. They made his experience so much easier, and he was so touched. It was really something I reflect on a lot. You never really know who’s going to be there for you. And he was so honored, it was great."
These days, news — even news of death — travels in diffuse ways. By the nature of his business, many of Steve’s friends were far-flung. But not the community that followed him with absolute devotion to the end.
Steve Trager was 65 when he died in July of 2015, in Newton.
This story aired on September 21, 2016.
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