-- George Carlin
Over the years, as we both grew into ourselves and away from each other, we had our share of differences. This was to be expected from two stubborn guys -- one a musician, the other a poet -- who insisted on thinking for themselves. We shared a lot of the same progressive, even radical views about American culture, politics, religion (especially religion) history, art and literature. It was the methods we used, the roads we traveled, the friends we made and/or the notions we embraced that sometimes kept us at odds for years. We even came to blows more than a few times. I was never afraid to stand up to my brother. And he respected me for that. But it wasn’t hard to imagine whose ass was going to get kicked every time.
Eventually (and thankfully), our reconciliation occurred when both of us were in our early fifties. “I’m fucking exhausted,” he said one day over the phone. “What about you?” And just like that, it was like no time had ever passed between us. After that, and whenever we’d talk, our conversations inevitably included stories and recollections about the family, growing up in the old neighborhood and some of the crazy things we remembered doing.
For me, one such story stood out from all the others. It helped explain the kind of person my brother was and why he championed the underdog.
Sal taught me how to throw a perfect spiral football when I was eight years old. My hands were too small to grip a regular size ball so he got me to practice with a half-size junior model. One afternoon we walked to Visitacion Valley Playground to toss the ball around. It was a safe park where boys and girls could hang out and be with friends. As I threw the ball to my brother, I spotted an older white kid pounding on a much younger black kid. The younger kid, who was the same age as me, turned out to be a boy I knew and played with. He lived in the housing projects on Sunnydale Avenue.
When I alerted my brother, he quickly ran over to the older kid and challenged him (in the language of the day): “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” The kid turned around and said, “You mean like you?” He then proceeded to take a swing at my brother. Sal, who had learned to box from our dad, blocked the kid’s arm with his left and hit him with a hard right cross. The kid went down so fast I thought my brother had killed him. Clearly stunned, he got up and ran off as if his pants were on fire. The rest of the day I stared at my brother as if he were Rocky Marciano.
Three years ago, on a visit to Ashland, Oregon, I was sitting with Sal in a bowling alley having a beer when I reminded him of this little episode in the park when we were kids. He remembered it exactly the way I told it. But he added a surprising bit of information. The kid he knocked down that day was none other than a twelve-year-old Dan White. “He lived around the corner on Hahn Street,” my brother said. “He was a prick and a bully and everyone in the neighborhood knew it.”
When I told this story to a friend, poet and satirist Kurt Lipschutz, his only reply was: “Anyone who decked Dan White is one of the good guys in my book.”
In 2007, Sal and I met in San Francisco to attend the funeral of an uncle. Afterwards, as he straddled his Harley in the mortuary parking lot, he told me that he admired the work I was doing with SafeNet. His words meant so much, but they also surprised me. I had been working with clergy abuse survivors for over four years and this was the first time my brother had ever acknowledged it. "It's just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Boys were being molested when I was there (at St. Anthony's Seminary in 1960)." He then proceeded to tell me that, like me, he, too, had been one of those boys.
His Outlaw Persona
Below is my brother’s obituary that appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle. At the bottom of this post I’ve included a link to two of Sal's songs. "Bankin' on the Red, White and Blue" was recorded at Willie Nelson's studio near Austin in the mid-2000s. Sal is joined by Willie and his daughter, Paula. “Old Abraham’s Grave" is a haunting composition that captures, for me, the bittersweet of living and dying. Accompanying Sal on chromatic harmonica is our cousin, Tom Stryker, a musician with impressive chops of his own.
Salvatore Martin Fericano, age 75, died early Monday morning May 23, 2022, at his residence in Cottage Grove, Oregon, after a three-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was born on November 11, 1946, in Boston, but spent his entire childhood in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood in the family home on Teddy Avenue.
Salvi, as he was lovingly called by family and friends, was the oldest of twelve children born to first generation Sicilian Americans, Frank and Josephine Fericano. He was a member of the first eighth grade graduating class (1960) of St. Paul of the Shipwreck, and became one of the first boys from the school to enter St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara to study for the Franciscan priesthood. Salvi left St. Anthony’s after his sophomore year and graduated from South San Francisco High School in 1964.
As a young adult he found work as a merchant marine, salesman, office clerk and house painter. In 1968, after purchasing his first guitar, he discovered his life’s purpose and pursued his love of music. Over the next fifty years he wrote, performed and recorded songs under his stage name, Salvi Durango. Some of the musicians, artists and friends he collaborated with included Pete Seeger, Willie Nelson, Paula Nelson, Lady Bianca, Stephen Hart, Tom Stryker, Matt Hubbard, Guno Ronde, Robb Kidd, JT Holt and Brian Bekon.
Big, tall, long-haired, bearded and dressed in black, Salvi used his outlaw persona to channel life’s joy, sorrow, anger and playful exuberance into clever songs that often masked personal pain. As the oldest in the family, he felt an enormous responsibility to help his younger siblings navigate the minefield of their parents’ painful divorce in 1966. There was never any doubt about how much he truly loved his brothers and sisters and how much they all loved him in return.
Salvi was a courageous survivor of clergy abuse. Like so many others who were harmed as children, he tended his wounds in silence. His distrust of religion and all patriarchal institutions helped fuel his desire to find beauty and create art. In the end, it was music that lifted his spirit and a sense of humor that rescued him.
Salvi was preceded in death by his loving parents, Frank Paul Fericano and Josephine Angelina (Anello) Kimball, and by his sister and childhood side-kick, Josephine “Jody” (Fericano) DeWoody. He is remembered with love by his former wife, Merla (Asuncion) Fericano of Santa Rosa who was, in Salvi’s own words, “an angel.” His laughter will be forever missed by all of his ten siblings, Paul (Kathy), Anna Maria, Tony, Joe, Francesca, Frank, Nancy, Therese, Mary Rose and John (Yi).
He is lovingly remembered by his nephews and nieces, Darla, Sonshine, Harmony, Ben, Angelina, Kate, Tim, Josephine, Jennifer, Anthony, Michael, Sofia and Sean, and by his many, many cousins, Lorraine Nordin, Cathy Nordin, Evamarie Clarke, Ed Farinsky, Josephine Corso, Gina Corso, Dick Corso, Robert Anello, John Anello, Michael Anello, David Anello, Francesca Anello, Theresa Bellotti, Rob Anello, Barry Anello, Tony Anello, Jr., Steve Anello, Tamara La Rossa, Ralph La Rossa, Mary White, Bernadette Black, Tom Stryker, Catherine Stryker, Betty Stryker, Mary Wetmore, Frances Rose Danner, Gary Bonnici, Rosemary Clerici, George Clerici, and Tim Bonnici, his true blue pal.
In Boston, he is remembered with love and affection by his uncles, Tony Firicano (Peggy) and Richard Firicano (Franca), and countless more cousins.
The family is grateful to their sister, Francesca, who lovingly devoted herself to Salvi’s care and well-being, particularly in his last weeks; to Merla, Salvi’s former wife, who was always there; and to staff and hospice at Coast Fork Nursing Center in Cottage Grove, Oregon, who accepted him with kindness and compassion.
A private family memorial will be held in Ashland, Oregon. At Salvi’s request, please consider a donation to the International Red Cross to assist and comfort the people of Ukraine.
Click here to listen to: "Bankin' on the Red, White and Blue"
Click here to listen to: "Old Abraham's Grave"