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‘I wish you’d broken all the rules’ – A memorial to those who’ve lost someone to COVID-19

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By David Pendered

“I wish you’d broken all the rules” is a haunting refrain in a memorial written by a Swedish performing artist whose friend died of a heart attack, and not COVID-19, after the South by Southwest event was cancelled and with it their planned performance.

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Sofia Talvik and Tim Fleming share a light moment. Credit: sofiatalvik.com

Sofia Talvik wrote Broken (Steel Guitars in Heaven) in memory of Tim Fleming, a pedal steel guitarist who died of a heart attack and not the virus he suspected he had contracted. Talvik dedicated the song to her friend, those who loved him and, “all of you who lost someone, directly or indirectly from Covid 19.” Talvik wrote:

“I wish you’d broken all the rules

“I wish you’d opened up that door

“I wish you’d gotten in your car

“And put the pedal to the floor.”

“But rules are rules

“And you obeyed

“Just like me you were afraid

“I wish you’d gone that day

“And maybe then you could’ve have stayed.”

Fleming evidently thought he was following a generally accepted protocol for those who thought they had contracted COVID-19. He stayed home, monitored his symptoms and thought he’d be among the majority of virus victims who were expected to recover on their own.

Fleming died during the night of April 19.

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Singer Sofia Talvik and pedal steel guitarist appeared together on several of Talvik’s recordings. File/Credit: facebook.com/sofiatalvikmusic/

The cause of death was heart attack, not the virus that he thought was causing the four days of symptoms he described in his final Facebook post:

  • “I’ve got it.
  • “And guess what?
  • “You DON’T want it. …
  • “Be careful if you must be out, unless you’re up for a ride to hell and (hopefully) back.
    “It’s not just a flu. Trust me.”

This was weeks after the ensemble touring with Talvik had sheltered-in-place at a friend’s home in the coastal town of Surfside, Tx. They went there after SxSW was cancelled and their tour calendar started to fold. Their time in Texas poised on the brink of the global realization of the huge impact the virus would inflict. Uncertainty hung over the future of their tour – which included a planned performance in Decatur in August. All was cancelled.

In one of their online performances in the seaside shack, Fleming and Talvik combined on what proved to be one of their last performances together. They recorded Meanwhile in Winnsboro, a song she wrote about what proved to be the final days of pre-viral normalcy in an East Texas town where they performed one of their last shows together. A Facebook post shows Talvik and Fleming performing the quarantine concert.

As Talvik observed of that day in Winnsboro, “the birds were singing and the trees were full of blossoms. The air was sweet and you would never know what was going on in the rest of the world.”

Fleming had accompanied Talvik over the past four years on tours in the United States. He played pedal steel as she sang lead vocal and played guitar on songs she had written. He traveled to Germany to perform on her latest album, Paws of a Bear.

Sofia Talvik, performing

Sofia Talvik evokes the spirit of Laurel Canyon in the 1960s with an “effervescent and incandescent” voice and songwriting compares to Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins, according to music critic Lee Zimmerman. File/Credit: sofiatalvik.com

Talvik’s description of her relation with Fleming reminds of what some older people say of trying to make friends in later life. It’s difficult. The runway is too short to establish a shared history on which friendship can be based. That wasn’t the way with Fleming, Talvik wrote:

  • “I have found that the older you get, the harder it is to find new friends. I’m not talking about casual friendships where you meet up every now and then over a drink or a coffee, I’m talking about the kind of friendships where you can talk about everything, even your most private thoughts and feelings. …
  • I only knew Tim for about 4 years, but I feel like we knew each other a lifetime. … Just two months ago we said goodbye at the airport in Houston as he was flying home to L.A. We were supposed to do a 2-week tour together in Texas but all shows but three were canceled. It was the last time I saw him. …
  • “I don’t have things I wish that I would have told him but never did. This is not that kind of song. But I do wish I could talk to him again, about all the little things we would always talk about.”

The final verses of a song she performs with friends of Fleming from Los Angeles, The Wreckers:

“There will be a hole in my heart forever

“That will be the shape of you

“And darling when your heart was breaking

“You were breaking my heart too.

“There will be a hole in my heart forever

“That will be the shape of you

“I hope that they have steel guitars in heaven

“I know you’d play them if they do

“I know you’d play them if they do.”



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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