“Still waters run deep / Just remember when we lie to each other / No one wins and losers weep / Reflection will show / This connection we can lean on each other / This is all we need to know.”
— “Still Waters”, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb
I rudely ignored my mother when she told me Maurice Gibb had been rushed to hospital in Miami after suffering a heart attack. So rude, in fact, that I all but laughed at her for even slightly entertaining the idea that the Bee Gee was anything but strong and healthy.
Thus, the announcement the following day (January 12) of Maurice’s death while in surgery to remove an intestinal blockage hit me so hard I felt as though I’d been kicked in the chest. Seated on the couch in my bedroom as the news came to me in a commercial break during Dick Clark’s Bloopers show, I doubled over and cried, my husband left to watch and wait it out until I pulled myself together. I was embarrassed to face my mum, reasonably hurt at my callous dismissal the night before, and instead called my best friend, Lyndall, to see if she’d heard the news.
At just 23, I’m lucky enough to have never lost anyone close to me, and my reaction at the passing of Maurice stunned me into reflection as to just why I was left that night to repeatedly lose control of my emotions over someone I’ve never even met.
Maurice Gibb, as a part of the Bee Gees, had a significant hand in writing some of the most popular and well-known songs of all time, not least of which those featured on the phenomenally successful Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Born on The Isle of Man, the Bee Gees’ musical career began in England in the mid-1950s when Maurice and his twin brother, Robin, were just six years old, and older brother Barry was nine, and they were known collectively as The Rattlesnakes. Though the band’s name changed quite a few times during that initial period — from Johnny Hays and the Bluecats to The Brothers Gibb and the BG’s before settling on the Bee Gees — the music remained the same, with expert three-part harmonies to mirror father Hugh’s favorite act, The Mills Brothers.
These harmonies were often heard throughout the streets of London in those early days but were cultivated in Australia when the Gibb family emigrated in 1958. The official reason given for such a dramatic move was Hugh’s search for a job, yet the boys’ rambunctious behavior, which included street violence and arson, is said to have had a hand in it as well. In Australia, the Bee Gees released several successful singles, including the #1 hit, “Spicks and Specks” in 1967. Consequently, the Gibb family decided to move back to England in order to find a wider audience.
Back home, they immediately found management and support in the form of Robert Stigwood who was instrumental in the success of The Beatles. They soon released the haunting “New York Mining Disaster 1941” (inspired by several dark hours in a broken elevator) which became the group’s first international hit. From here on, the Bee Gees set towards their goal of writing relevant, introspective songs that could easily appeal to any audience. The band’s obvious love of folk, rock, pop and classical music was to show up on each of their following hits, including “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You”, “I Started a Joke” and “To Love Somebody”.
The Bee Gees’ success reached its peak in the 1970s when the guys were advised by producer Arif Mardin to move away from pop music to rival The Beatles and turn their attention to R&B. What they came up with was “Jive Talkin'”, a song written about a dance move but later reconstructed to be a song about “jive talk” — a term Barry, Robin and Maurice were initially unfamiliar with. The hits that followed, “How Deep is You Love”, “You Should Be Dancing” and “More Than a Woman” were also considered by the boys to be classic R&B tracks, but instead became known for heralding the onset of the disco era, injected by the songs featured in Saturday Night Fever.
Following the demise of disco, the Bee Gees continued to write music, often for a range of other artists (including writing the wondrous Eyes That See in the Dark album for Kenny Rogers), as well as themselves with 1987’s ESP and 1997’s Still Waters among the best work the group ever produced.
The Bee Gees represent a steadfast belief in companionship and loyalty to each other and to music. Their talents stretched so far as to allow them to remain contemporary throughout the multitudes of musical style changes throughout the 80s, 90s and into the new millennium. The group was so aware of these changes that it took just a slight effort for them to continue their relevance whether Billboard charts reflected so or not.
They were still making good pop music as late as 2001 on their final album together, This Is Where I Came In which sounded as if any number of the current pop acts could have recorded it. Their progression and desire to construct accessible music was evident on each of the album’s tracks, including sultry “Loose Talk Costs Lives”, experimental “Voice in the Wilderness” and Maurice’s own “Man in the Middle” and “Walking on Air” .
Maurice Gibb’s input into the songs that made the Bee Gee the success they became is incalculable. His innate ability, along with his brothers, to know what sounds were right where and what worked and what didn’t is the likes of which the music world is unlikely to encounter again.
When I called my best friend to see if she’s heard about Maurice’s death, she hadn’t. Breaking the news to her turned out to be far more difficult than hearing it myself. Though I’d heard their music played in my house when I was younger, it was Lyndall who really introduced me to the beauty of the Bee Gees’ music. Lyndall’s intense passion for the group quickly rubbed off on me, and at 14, I became obsessed myself (one of my earliest memories in our friendship involves the two of us sitting in the dark listening to Saturday Night Fever surrounded by pictures of the group and John Travolta).
While I commend the Bee Gees for giving me countless hours of joy through their music, helping me through hardships in my life with their often relentless exhilaration, and digging me out of a period of feeling intense adolescent hopelessness (mostly thanks to my favorite Bee Gees song, “You Win Again”), I thank them as well for helping me find (and keep) a kindred spirit in Lyndall. Reflection on my relationship with her has allowed me to understand a little better why Maurice Gibb’s death affected me so profoundly.
Comforting as it is that Barry Gibb has stated that Maurice’s death will not signal the end of the Bee Gees and that he and Robin will continue to write music and perform in Maurice’s name, without Mo standing aside his brothers in his trademark black fedora, there’ll always be something missing.