27 March 2004
He passed me at Doheny
West of Crescent Heights, onto that off-camber section of Sunset Boulevard that was known as "Dead Man's Curve." It wasn't on that fearful turn that Jan Berry crashed his Corvette in 1966, two years after he and Dean Torrence had had a Top Ten hit with a song about it, but Jan was cracked up pretty badly, and while technically he never recovered, it took almost thirty-eight years for the brain damage to finish him off, testimony perhaps to the man's sheer strength of will.
Ironically, by 1964 Dead Man's Curve itself was no longer much of a threat, the city of Los Angeles having redone that section of Sunset in 1961 after Mel Blanc crashed there and anyway, the curve itself wasn't quite where Jan placed it in the song: if you started to swerve after Doheny, you'd have to go a good four miles to get to the actual location. (I drove the remains of the Curve myself in 1988, slightly above the speed limit, and it was like drag city, man.)
It seems so unfair, though, that both Dead Man's Curve and Jan Berry should be gone: to some of us non-Californians, these were trademarks of the Golden State, as surely as oranges and palm trees (neither of which were actually indigenous to the area, but what the hell) and San Andreas and his fault.
In the meantime, feel free to send donations in Jan's name to the Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association, and remember a man who not only wrote surf hits, but did much to advance the art of record production. As Dawn Eden once said:
When Jan Berry lost part of his brain, the music world lost some major-league endorphins.
In heaven, of course, there are two girls for every boy. Maybe.