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Portrait of a music junkie

Wayne Flebbe's life dedicated to music — and now, at 60, he's living his own life for the first time

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The vodka, he says, is to help calm his nerves. Even though he's been in newspapers before, this is the first time he's been the sole focus of a feature.

"My brother was always the one being interviewed and having the feature on," he says. "And now —" he sighs. "My brother did say shortly before he passed away that it's all about me now. It was about him but it's about me now."

He stares off into the ether again. Light streaming in from the window of his music room glimmers off the moisture in his eyes. The moisture wells and threatens to spill over the sides.

The ghost of Rick Flebbe haunts this house. Every corner of the room seems to hold some memory of Wayne's brother. Pictures hang on hooks on most of the walls. Three of his cowboy shirts hang in a row above the racks holding Wayne's 45s.

"It was not expected," Wayne says. "Health-wise it was the best he'd been. It was just something that was unexpected. In here." He points to his temple. "A tumour. Not a cancerous tumour but a benign tumour that got bigger. It would have been fine if it stayed small like it had been since he was a ...a baby," his emotions getting the better of him for a moment. "It got bigger and he had a heart condition."

He laughs nervously and sucks the air in through his teeth, supporting the top of his wrist on his hip so his fingers point loosely at the ceiling. The tears threaten to spill ever more urgently.

Rick's passing was sudden and Wayne was left with very little. He didn't know how to use a computer and had only the vaguest idea of what the Internet was. No credit card, no bank account, and no driver's license, which meant no access to new music.

"It was like an elderly couple, when one goes the other's not far behind, do you know what I mean?" says Harrison Stoker, one of several people who knew both Rick and Wayne from their rounds and who stepped in to take care of Wayne after Rick died. "I kind of identified that right off the bat and thought, 'Whoa, I got to keep this guy busy with the stuff that he loves.'"

Rick left Wayne an inheritance, including the postcard business, but it took about a year for the money to come through.

"I had to teach him how to get his music for free basically because he couldn't afford to buy CDs anymore, and without music he was toast," Stoker says.

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