“VonWar: A Story of Classic Rock”
By Alex Colvin
The following work is the remains of a collapsed project to write a biographical novel about the famous classic rock band “VonWar” who formed in 1968 and thrived through the most turbulent rock and roll lifestyle in the history of the genre. I had been working closely with the band for the last eighteen months, interviewing the members of the band and collecting old interviews and other records, with hopes to release this book after their 50th reunion tour, which was cancelled due to the death of Ginger Carmichael, as well as the disappearance of the front man, Kafka VonWar. Since Kafka disappeared, and revealed in a final interview that he is illiterate and therefore cannot accept fan mail, my project has come to a frustrating end. However, should Kafka ever return, I hope to complete the project and give fans the glimpse of VonWar they deserve.
- – J.D. Kemble.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE 2009 ‘GLOBAL RECESSION TOUR’ FROM BAND WEBSITE (ARCHIVED)
Times are tough, ladies and gentlemen! But in the spirit of charity, VonWar is embarking on their “Global Recession Tour” to help your local economy! How, you might ask, will we do that? Simple! Buy a ticket to our show, buy a t-shirt from a local vendor, go to dinner at a local restaurant before the show, drinks at a local bar after, and sleep with a local prostitute! Presto, you’ve just pumped hundreds of dollars into the local economy! Vonwar isn’t doing this tour for them, they’re doing it to help struggling downtown areas in global megacities that are in danger of collapsing. Seriously, there are fewer bankers on Wall Street every day; these people need your help! So come on out, spend $500 on a ticket (or several!), and then $500 on the locals and see what a hero you’ll be to the community. Really, I’m sure someone you know will thank you for stepping up like this.
Sure, your children may get a few less Christmas presents, and you might want to eat no-name brand food for a month or so, but you’re helping the economy. Help VonWar help your struggling town, buy a ticket today.
Rock on Vonwarriors!
Alfred Hindel, Webmaster.
RADIO INTERVIEW FROM MARCH 4th 2018. VONWAR’S TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT.
R And We’re back, and my next guest is Kafka VonWar! The front man of the legendary band, ‘VonWar’ who crafted such hit songs as “You Know What I Say” and “From Russia with Blumpkin”. So, how are you Kafka?
VW Well, I’m feeling great, because I have some exciting news for all our supporters all over the world. VonWar is embarking on a tour to support our fiftieth anniversary! We’re going around the globe, America, Canada, France, Italy, South America, and good old England to top it all off.
R That’s fantastic! This is your first tour in, what? Eight years?
VW Yea. About that.
R And how have rehearsals been going for this monumental tour? All the old magic still there?
VW Rehearsals? We don’t need to fucking rehearse! We’ve been playing some of these songs since you were little more than an accidental ejaculate, sonny! We are the best goddamn rock band in the history of rock. We don’t rehearse. We just jam occasionally before the shows start up. But we never, ever rehearse.
R And how does that effect your sound on stage?
VW We sound like we always do, balls to the walls rock that causes panties to turn into swamps. That’s just what we are.
VW You know I’ve slept with six thousand women, right?
R Wow, that’s quite a number.
VW Some of them were nine of ten at a time.
R How is that even possible? Sounds like an awful lot of work.
VW Not when you’re famous, mate. I just starfish and let them come to me.
R Let’s change the topic. Tell me about your charity efforts over the past few years.
VW Well, since the band hasn’t been very active, I decided to turn and help out the third world, try to make it a happier place for all the freedom fighters, dictators, tyrants and drug lords who live there. So I founded operation Christmas Child.
R And what was operation Christmas child?
VW Well, these kids in poor countries, they’re not just starving for food. They’re also starving for love. And I thought, “Jeeze, these kids are all going to starve to death or die in suicide bombings sooner or later, so why not give them what they need most? That’s love.” So I went to South America-
R Africa, according to my notes.
VW Well fucking excuse me if I can’t tell a South American mud hut from a fuckin’ African mud hut! They were mud huts with kids dying in them! So I wasn’t too concerned which country they were in! But anyways, at Christmas every year, I go and hold these kids, read them stories, play checkers with them, give them signed copies of my albums, and let them feel loved on their way to the grave yard. Ya’know? Like mother Teresa. So every Christmas for the past fifteen years, I go and cheer those poor kids up. It’s the least I can do.
R Very noble.
VW Yea, and then Bono had to go and outdo me. What a prick.
R So tell me, how are your band mates doing?
VW Ginger’s good. Still drinking kool-aid, but generally fine. He still even lives up to his name in our old age, still as Ginger as ever.
R And your session drummer, what is his name?
VW Fuck if I know. Ralph, or something. Never talk to the chump, he’s not a VonWar veteran like Ginger and me. I don’t pay attention to the little bitch, I just grant him the luxury of playing with the best goddamn band in the world.
R I see. Tell me about your relationship with your fanbase, the ‘Vonwarriors” as you call them.
VW Bunch of cunts. Screaming at me on stage, telling me to play the hits, begging for new material, writing me fan mail. I only tolerate them because they pay my bills and some of the ladies love a good old Vonshag. But screw the fans, as much as this tour is for them, it’s also for me. I love singing and being on stage, and I’ll sing my heart out if all my little bastard children and stupid fans show up, regardless.
R Well, it seems we’re out of time! Thank you for your time, Kafka, and after the break, we’ll be playing some of VonWar’s biggest hits, from “You Know What I say” to “Boring White Man’s Blues”! Don’t change that dial from 97.5FM, where classic rock never dies, even when the musicians do!
MESSAGE ON THE BAND’S WEBSITE. APRIL 14th 2013 (ARCHIVED).
This April marks forty-five years of VonWar!
There will not be a tour this year, but if you want to keep your VonLove alive for this very special band, you can re-purchase all ten of our albums, which we are re-mastering and re-releasing, and each album with have seven additional bonus tracks! That’s right, some albums are going to double in length as we cram each CD (if you buy CDs, if you get your music online then whatever, you’re just following an empty trend, the internet’s days are numbered and people will go back to mailing letters.) with enough outtakes, alternate versions of old songs, live versions, re-recordings of our hits and covers to make the head of any VonWarrior explode! In going back through the VonWar catalogue, we’ve found perhaps fifty songs in various stages of preparedness, and we’re sharing them all with you! Yes, you!
And for the dinosaurs and hipsters in the crowd, we’re also re-releasing everything we’ve ever done in vinyl! Listen to the perfect sounds of those smooth, outdated and obsolete black plastic disks, just like you, or perhaps your parents used to in a drunken and drug induced haze when they conceived you! (Unless you were born in the 90’s, in which case you’re conception probably the result of bad advice from your parent’s couples therapy sessions). Go back to the seventies with a simple purchase of one of our albums, and if you don’t have a vinyl player, you can purchase one here with VonWar decorations on it, for a mere two hundred dollars!
And now to clear up a more serious matter, it’s been in the news lately that VonWar is being sued by the Rolling Stones for plagiarism. Well, this is not the case. The VonWar song, “I Need Shelter” is nothing like the stones song. For starters, the Stones song is four minutes and thirty three seconds, and our song is five minutes and twelve seconds, so how could we plagiarise something and make it longer? Yes, the chord progression is a little similar, but both songs are played on a guitar, so they have to sound something alike! VonWar is far too busy being creative to take the time to plagiarise, after all, you know how much effort it takes to plagiarise? Way too much work for the old boys, so there. We didn’t do it. And if we did, so did the Verve, and no one gives them a hard time about it.
And if you’re still not sold, did you know Sheaffe University did a study that proved that eighty percent of women are more likely to engage in oral sex if VonWar music is playing in their vicinity? I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, that university must have a lot of excess funding if they’re taking on graduate student projects like that” or “Gee, that university must be desperate for grad students”, but that study was done by scientists (well, technically, a masters student of psychology, with a minor in dramatic clowning) so it can’t be wrong! Get ahead and get some head by visiting your local music store and buying some VonWar today! Until then, Kafka and the boys are cooking up some massive plans, which I’m sure you’ll hear about soon!
Rock on, VonWarriors!
Alfred Hindel, Webmaster.
VONWAR’S BIG HIT IN 1972: YOU KNOW WHAT I SAY
Old people say,
The world is worse today.
Kids sure didn’t drink or fuck,
Nobody ran amuck,
Back in 1958.
But you know what I say?
Things are no worse today.
Old people need a reason to scream,
And the papers appease them.
Isn’t media great?
So you feed the wolves with stories of
Teenage sex and reckless drugs,
Which aren’t really new,
While still being true,
And the old people get to bleat,
“These stupid kids today!
The drugs that they all pack away!
With their dance club hookups,
And whiskey in their teacups!
Didn’t happen in my day!”
What did Townshend say?
f-f-f-f fade away?
Shows that kids have always taken shit
And now we bite the bit,
It’s just reciprocal hate.
But you know what I say?
Just shrug it off today,
Old people ruined the planet,
Thanks for the energy crisis, damnit.
So it’s up to us to save the day.
ROLLING STONE 1972 REVIEW FOR ‘YOU KNOW WHAT I SAY”
After two lackluster releases that spawned some decent singles across the charts, VonWar rearmed and is back with guns blazing, unleashing this amazing album with sharp hooks, flawless harmonies and insightful lyrics to top it all off. Most of the album is really a love letter to rock and roll, as VonWar echoes the cries of their idols, with the lines, “What did Townshend say?/ f-f-f-f fade away?/ Shows that kids have always taken shit/ And now we bite the bit,/ It’s just reciprocal hate”. The gulf between the generations and the growing distance between the young and old is explored in full, there are deep thoughts behind this album, and the fact that VonWar is taking up its ancestor’s battle cry shows that times aren’t really changing.
Further rock gems like, “Call from Arms” and “Working Girl Valentine” light up the album and keep a fast pace, but the album is masterfully structured with the occasional slower tune mixed in so a full listen doesn’t feel exhausting. At thirty-four minutes, the album breezes by, and you’ll be left wishing there was more to it.
VonWar also show they can be incredibly funny in small doses, with the hilarious song, “Son, You’re Inbred”, recording the conversation between a father and son, with the father explaining that he married his sister, since “Fenwick is a tough dating town”. This album carves a place for VonWar in the history of Rock and Roll, and listen after listen, this album will stun, impress and shock you, in a way that no other rock band could truly muster.
APB FOR MITCHELL MCMANN
ALL POINTS BULLETIN
SPECIAL ATTENTION NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT
ON MAY 16, 1973 MITCHELL MCMANN, DRUMMER FOR THE ROCK BAND VONWAR FLED ILLEGAL BROTHEL DURING POLICE RAID WHERE HE WAS FOUND IN POSSESSION OF DRUGS AND WAS PERFORMING YET-TO-BE-DETERMINED SEXUAL ACTS WITH AN UNDERAGE PROSTITUTE. SUSPECT WAS LAST SEEN FLEEING THE SCENE IN TORN CLOWN COSTUME AND LEATHER MASK AND HANDCUFFS. THE MASK AND HANDCUFFS WERE KEPT IN PLACE WITH A PADLOCK THAT SUSPECT WILL BE UNABLE TO REMOVE. SUBJECT MAY BE GOING THROUGH DRUG WITHDRAW AND IS TO BE CONSIDERED DANGEROUS. ARREST SUSPECT ON SIGHT.
FRONT PAGE OF NEW YORK TIMES. MAY 17TH 1973.
The out-of-control rock band “VonWar” have taken their antics to a new level during their latest visit to the big apple. Drummer Mitchell McMann was arrested after an on foot chase with police officers that resulted in his eventual capture. McMann had been discovered at an illegal brothel with a seventeen year old prostitute, practicing a bizarre satanic sexual ritual that involved a leather bodysuit which McMann was eventually arrested in. McMann made the chase and arrest reasonably easy, as he was already handcuffed and his legs were shackled, and both of these impediments were also fur lined, making McMann stand out all the more in the crowds he sought to disguise himself in. McMann was also found to be under the influence of drugs, and a search of his room at the brothel revealed a significant amount of heroin and cocaine. The band leader, Kafka Vonwar, declared the police actions, “A fucking witch hunt, they only raided the brothel because Mitchell was in it. The police are out to get us for fucking their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers, but we won’t give in now, Mitchell is an innocent man and we’ll get through this!”
GINGER’S RECIPE FOR NUCLEAR KOOL-AID
- 1) 1 tbl spoon of cocaine
- 2) Shot of vodka
- 3) Orange juice
KAFKA VONWAR’S ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING MITCHELL’S DEATH
“Now that Mitchell has passed on, the name VonWar is in doubt. What would we be without our bass player- er, I mean, drummer? We would only be two musicians standing atop the stage, and Ginger’s, sorry, Mitchell’s, energetic presence would be missed. But then, Ginger called me up and said, “Dude, we can just get another drummer.” So that’s what we’ll do. We owe it to our fans to continue, and in honour of Mitchell, we’re doing a five leg world tour with our new session drummer, what’s-his-name. Shares a name with some famous composer. Whatever, he’s a helping hand in our next endeavor. Ginger and I agreed that there will always be a VonWar for our fans, and even when Ginger dies, I’ll just replace him and let the concert gross roll in.
Mitchell was a good man, he’d been clean for two year, until he fell into his drug cocktails again. Had a rough time, since he was speedballing cocaine and heroin and drinking it in protein shakes. Messed him up pretty badly. The protein helped him get bigger though, had great tricep definition at the time of his death. He was easily the most toned body at the morgue, I was poking around all the little dead body cubbies before the doctor got there, and Mitchell was easily the most handsome guy there, at the time.
In honour of the old chap, I’m going to shoot myself up with heroine, one last time, to celebrate his life. Mitchell loved his heroine almost as much as he loved playing drums, and in his memory, I’m going to take a shot now to live life the way he wanted it to be lived, in a haze. So here goes. (Pause) Aaaaah. Good old Mitchell. That’ll kick in in a minute. Where was I? Dunno… anyways, we’ll be looking for a new drummer, well, looking is the wrong word. I expect a call from Phil Collins or Neil Peart any day now, drummers will be flocking to us for a chance to work with us, so until then, keep Mitchell in your hearts and our music in your compact disk players! Peace!
FAILED TITLE SINGLE FROM 2003 ALBUM: FROM RUSSIA WITH BLUMPKIN
I’m in my private plane.
Flying is such a pain.
Twiddling my Diamond Cane
This high in the air, can it rain?
A quick fuck would pass the time.
With a tequila (and some lime)
Also help me mix my rhymes
And break me from being a mime.
Flying from Russia to the UK
Hired a prostitute to fly with me
So rock your stuff, sugar.
You’re one hell of a looker!
From Russia with blumpkin
You naughty horny pumpkin
Feel the bass amp thumpin’
Let’s get to some humpin
My bowels and some blowing
Only one way of knowing
Gonna see what she’s showing
When I get home, do some hoeing.
ROLLING STONE 2003 REVIEW FOR ‘FROM RUSSIA WITH BLUMPKIN’
A blumpkin, for those of you who don’t know, is the sexual act of when someone has fellatio performed on them, while defecating. And that act is exactly how this album feels, but not from the recipient’s point of view, but from the perspective of the unfortunate person to be blowing someone who is having the worst bowel movement in history. VonWar is unabashedly basking in their short lived heyday, singing about the women who used to want to sleep with them and the world tours they used to embark on.
The biggest failing of the record is VonWar’s attempt to be millennial, as their hard rock roots are ripped up to make way for electronic pop mixed with a barrage of looped guitar feedback to add a supposed edge to the bubblegum pop flavour. Also, there is not a single cymbal clash, or any drum work, to be found on the album. It seems that Kafka’s hatred of his session drummer extends to the mixing booth, as Ralph Ludwig has been entirely buried in the mix. The result of all this, is a disaster, as VonWar’s classic voice is but a yelp in an album that sounds like VonWar is assaulting the backstreet boys, with a 70’s era Lou Reed dancing around the fray.
The lyrics also fail to gain any form of emotional reaction, other than hatred, with lines like, “From Russia with blumpkin/ you naughty horny pumpkin/ feel the bass amp thumpin’/ let’s get to some humpin”. The writing is bad, the rhymes are abysmal, when they actually do rhyme, and the themes and motifs are nonsensical, or perhaps simply nonexistent. Not that rock albums need themes or underlying messages, but this album doesn’t represent anything, not a single thing. The tracks are such a disjointed mess that nothing can be gleamed from the work, and it will ultimately leave you scratching your head.
This is all without mentioning the bizarre track, “Deli Meat”, which attempts to be a feminist mode of fighting society’s emphasis on women’s looks… by comparing the attractiveness of women to deli cuts. Really. I wish I was kidding, but with agonizing lines like, “Too thick or too thin/ babe, you wouldn’t make it as a cut in a deli/ I already know/ No need to tell me”, you can’t help but cringe and wonder if this entire album is just a sick joke to torment their long-suffering fan base.
This album is so bad, so putrid, gory and lazy that I almost recommend picking it up to get a lesson in what not to do when recording a record. The mixing is bad, the riffs are recycled, and it’s somehow both overproduced and unfinished (which is remarkable). However, I cannot encourage my readers to buy this piece of crap, save your money for Bowie’s new album coming out next month.
Half a Star.
REVIEW OF FIRST SHOW OF ’50 YEARS OF WAR’ TOUR. JUNE 4th 2018.
What a disaster. I’m not one to generally knock reunion tours. After all, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith all have pulled incredible tours in the last five years that have shown that no one has any reason to mock old rockers, because old rockers still rock. VonWar, however, is the best example of why old bands should simply hang up their axes and call it a day.
The band is well within its “greatest hits” era and they know it. The fans want to hear the hit songs, “You Know What I Say” and “Blister Disco”, but VonWar played whatever the hell they wanted to, and treated the crowd to an agonizing two hour set of absolute crap, such as “From Russia with Blumpkin” and “Boring White Man’s Blues”. When fans cried out for the music from the band’s heyday, VonWar snarled, “Well, fuck you. We’ve been on stage since most of you were sperm, so we’ll run the show.” So they plowed on with newer material that brought the crowd enthusiasm to a grinding halt.
But, what was easily the low point of the evening was when Kafka randomly exposed himself to the audience, revealing his shrivelled and withered self to the small crowd, poised like the savior of humanity, believing he was doing the world a glorious favour. It wasn’t charming when Morrison did it, Kafka, and it’s even less sexy at 70. Lots of rockers opt for minimal clothing, but the cry of horror from the crowd convinced Kafka to pull his pants up, which sent him tripping over the mic cable and falling on his exposed, hairy ass. Once a roadie untangled him, Kafka went back to screeching and howling for the rest of the evening with Ginger stumbling along in a drunken haze.
This was exacerbated by the fact that the drummer (who went unnamed by his bandmates) was not actually on stage for the main portion of the show, and was only marched to the drum kit (in chains, none the less) by two roadies for the encore. But even then, he simply glowered at his kit and refused to touch a cymbal or drum. I’ve heard about on-stage tension being visible in shows before, but this was a new one. I don’t know if this was just a show where fate conspired to make every possible thing go wrong, of if this is just a terrible, terrible band, but from what I saw, I’d suggest you save your hard earned money for something more enjoyable.
TRANSCRIPT OF 911 CALL FROM GINGER’S HOTEL ROOM. JUNE 11th 2018.
D 9-1-1, what is your emergency?
VW It’s Kafka VonWar! From the band?
D What is your emergency, sir?
VW Ginger just drank an entire bottle of nuclear kool-aid! I think he’s dying!
D Nuclear kool-aid?
VW Juice with cocaine and vodka in it! He drank a lot of it!
D He was ingesting cocaine?
VW And now he’s not breathing!
D Have you tried administering CPR?
VW Ooh, good idea! (Calls) Oy! Hookers! Do some reviving!
D Sir, you have prostitutes performing CRP on him?
VW Well I’m on the fucking phone with you! Can’t exactly do both!
D Sir, the prostitutes might not be CPR certified, they may not be able to revive him.
VW Aren’t you a fucking downer! Be a little more fucking optimistic, will you?
D I recommend you get the girls to help in another way while you check his vitals, sir.
VW Ah, got it. Oy! Candyfloss or whatever your name is! Give him a blowjob to go!
VW To suck him off on his way out! Isn’t that a cultural thing in France? They fuck dying people there, right? Those kinky Europeans! That’s why they call the orgasm, ‘Le Petite Mort’, except here it’s larger than life! Might even revive him!
D Sir, it won’t help. Police and paramedics are on the way, so sit tight, Sir.
VW Police? Police!?
D Yes Sir.
VW Fuck! Oh, fuck me! Why would you send police! Fuck, fuck, fuck! Girls, forget Ginger, he’s on his own! Get every plant, powder or crystal in this hotel room and flush it! Get to work! When the toilet clogs, tie the drugs up in condoms and swallow them! You’re on a diet? Fuck your diet! Condoms don’t have calories anyways, so get to it!
D Alright… good luck…
VW Don’t flush the bouquet down the toilet you stupid whore! I meant the marijuana! The bouquet is fine! Just- No! Go over there and clean up!
(The phone is dropped and only mumbling can be heard)
VONWAR’S RETIREMENT ANNOUNCEMENT. AUG 28th 2018.
“So when Mitchell died all those years ago, I was at a loss, but he was easy to replace and we could still make a killing touring, and banging groupies, so I put my grief aside and did exactly that. And now that Ginger has also died, I am place in a similar predicament. I could get a session bassist and keep going, but I already hate my drummer, and I’m not sure I could keep the magic alive on stage by adding some other young pissant I hate. So it’s finally time to end VonWar, but keep buying our records, I want to stress that to our fans, buy as many records as possible.
What will I do now? I’m heading to the wild jungles of South America to find myself. I want to be in the wilderness with nothing but my wits and a machete, and I want to survive like a man. I’ll live off bugs and the animals I kill, and once I have conquered nature, I will return. Don’t try and find me, I’ll hide myself in the forest like an Amazon and never be heard from again. Also, don’t send me fan mail, because I can’t read. Never got around to learning, always hired a playboy centerfold to read the more interesting or sexually explicit letters to me, never got to most of them.
And music? Fuck music. All these young bands are taking over with their shit music. I’ve heard Lady Gaga’s “Born to be Wild” and Carla Rae Jespen’s “Calling America” so many times I think I’ll be sick. There’s no music where I’m going, except for the buzzing of mosquitoes and the death roars of the bobcats I’ll slaughter for food. People keep telling me I get this “Malaria Shot” when I’m in the jungle, is it some kind of drink? I bet those crazy South Americans pour a mean shot, all right.
Goodbye London, Goodbye Ladies, good riddance to Ginger and Mitchell, I am off to have the greatest adventure since Gulliver Crusoe. It’s been rock and roll,
by Josephine Kensington
I should have known sooner — we all should have — but information travels so fast these days and I found out about Casey’s death alongside the rest of the world, later even, answering the phone after the story had already been broken on CNN and the Drudge Report. It was Manny who called — he’d stayed the closest to Casey, uncomplicated all these years, blessed with a drummer’s casual diffidence and immune to the slow burn of my silence. I stood in the airy wood-paneled kitchen of my house in Tiburon and couldn’t believe it, staring out to the steady blue San Francisco Bay as Manny kept talking.
“Brian’s already got a flight to England,” he said, and with a jolt I realized I had to go too; we all did and we’d be together again for the first time in so long — Casey always did have a habit of of shattering whatever peace I might have found and in my shock and bubbling grief there was a moment of resentment.
“Kevin?” said Manny, and I sighed.
“We’ll all have to go to Cleveland, won’t we,” I said. “After London, I mean. Play at the Rock Hall or whatever they want us to do.”
“They’ll probably ask us too, yeah,” said Manny, after a long moment. “Who knows what Rodrigo will let them do, anyway.”
I was silent.
“You will come to London, though, right? To the funeral, at least?”
“Yeah,” I said, barely a breath. I could sense Manny’s indecision all the way from Malibu, frictious through the phone line, just like when my book had come out and Casey had gone unmentioned.
My wife walked into the kitchen, consternation and horror on her face, and I knew that she knew too.
“Good,” said Manny. “Casey deserves that much.”
I met Brian on the Rapid — he was always on when I boarded in the morning and he stayed on after I left in the afternoon so I knew he lived in a better part of town than I did; he was an upperclassmen with a disarming smile and a cocky confidence when I was just a shy freshman and if we hadn’t worn the same uniform we probably would never have spoken at all.
“Check it out,” he said one February morning when I sat next to him in the otherwise-full car, elbowing me and tipping his open magazine my way, casting a furtive glance to the bored Cleveland businessmen as he showed off a photo of a scantily clad Cindy Crawford. “I’d like to squeeze those tits,” he said, with a low voice and a wicked grin, and I turned bright red and mumbled something like “OK.” Brian regarded me for a skeptical moment before he stuck out his hand. “Brian O’Hara,” he said, and I shook awkwardly.
“Kevin Jefferson,” I said, and Brian smiled and looked back at his magazine; I thought our conversation was over but he kept talking.
“You’re a freshman, right?” he said, flipping pages, and once more I mumbled my assent. “And you play the guitar?” he asked.
This surprised me.
“Yeah,” I said finally. “How did you know?”
“I’ve seen you on the train. Doing a little of this –” Brian dropped the magazine in his lap and closed his eyes, air-guitaring with a tilted head and intense focus, biting his lip in what I knew to be a perfect imitation. I thought he was making fun of me, this handsome upperclassman whose family had more money than mine, but when he stopped and opened his eyes he looked at me and asked if I was any good.
I shrugged. “I’m alright, I guess.”
He smiled again, slow, sly, as if he could see through my modesty to the future that awaited us even then.
“I got a band with some friends,” he said, turning to the magazine once more. “If you’re interested.”
The question hung in the air as shock made me slow, and it was our stop before I said anything, piling out of the subway with all the other St. Ignatius boys.
“Yeah,” I told him. “That’d be great.”
It wasn’t until May that I saw them play.
“You’ll love this place,” Brian said, picking me up in his family’s Ford Taurus so we could head together to the East Side. “The Grog Shop is a great venue. I can’t believe you’ve never been to Coventry, man.”
I just shrugged and put in an Eric Clapton cassette, and together we rocked out as we crossed the city. Brian parked and pulled out a bag of quarters, handing it to me. “I’m gonna need you on meter detail tonight,” he said. “Cops are dicks over here.” I maxed it out at three hours as Brian took his guitar from the trunk and together we walked down the bright crowded block to the Grog Shop, where a burly doorman gave me a skeptical look.
“He’s with me,” said Brian, but it wasn’t until he tossed off one of his famous smiles that we got waved in underneath a sign that said “Must be sixteen to enter.” The Grog Shop was small and dark, a handful of folks at the bar and the pool table, but we walked around the corner to the stage as three guys set up equipment.
“Brian! Finally!” One of the guys hopped off the stage in front of us, clapping Brian on the back and raising an eyebrow at me, and then I realized that Casey wasn’t a guy after all; somewhere underneath her flannel shirt were breasts but she was short-haired and rail-thin and looked like she hadn’t bathed or slept in days, and in her paint-splattered jeans and high-top sneakers she was unlike any other girl I’d ever known — not that I’d known many girls, granted, but I had four sisters who spent hours crowding our tiny bathroom and left it potent with the chemical smell of hairspray and perfume and who would never be seen in public so… dirty.
“This is the kid I told you about,” said Brian, jerking a thumb towards me. “He can really jam.” Casey looked me up and down, manic and angular.
“Casey Marks,” she said, putting out a hand to shake and then waving to the guys behind her onstage, joined now by Brian. “That’s Mike, and Jeremy on the drums. Glad you could come to the show, Brian’s talked a lot about you.” She spoke with a searching efficiency that intimidated and warmed me both at once, and I struggled to locate her within the catalog of women I had in my head. “Are you two dating?” I said.
For a brief moment I thought Casey hadn’t heard the question, or maybe that it wasn’t appropriate to have asked; but then she burst out laughing and turned back to Brian. “Hey Bri,” she called, and he grunted back without looking up, “your friend here thinks we’re doing it.” Before I could stammer out that I didn’t mean it quite like that, but Brian had just never mentioned that this was a female Casey she was addressing me again — “Nope, we just have mindsex,” she said with a wink. “And we make songbabies. You’ll see!”
She jumped back on the stage and took a long drag from a can of beer sitting on an amp. I thought for a moment that if they would serve minors here then maybe I should give it a try but when I turned I saw my face in the mirror behind the bar, so much painfully younger than all the people on the stage, and I decided not to chance it, pulling up a stool and requesting a Coke instead.
Casey drank more beers as the place filled up and the show began, a messy but enthusiastic kind of rock filling the room — Mike plowed at his guitar with the self-serious focus I’d seen in other local bands, what I recognized from myself as the earnest desire to be a Rock Star, but Casey and Brian were free of such transparent aspiration, plucking out melodies and tossing out lyrics with a certain catchy glee. Casey finished another beer and threw the can offstage, clanging against a wall as she spoke into the microphone: “Our next song will be completely improvised,” she said, sharing a smile with Brian. “And you guys get to tell us what we’re gonna sing about!”
There were a few scattered claps and murmurs but before anyone else could get to it a guy in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap called out from the front of the crowd, loud above the barroom chatter. “My penis,” he shouted, and Casey didn’t bat an eye.
“Alright,” she said, “here is our song about that guy’s penis.” She picked out a quick simple rhythm, a toe-tapping ¾ time, and Brian filled in a lazy contrapuntal melody. Mike and Jeremy jumped in slowly, sluggish and uncertain, as Casey began to sing, her voice brassy and scratched like she’d been shouting and drinking Scotch all day long, which I thought she might well have been.
is thin like a stick.
I shouldn’t like to lickie
Your icky, tricky picky
She sang without any malice and the crowd cheered and Brian strummed a short bridge, launching into a second verse over whoops and whistles. “Your cooooooock…” she sang, drawing out the syllable long enough for Brian to harmonize: “Is dull like a rock,” he chimed in, his voice smooth and soft against Casey’s rough edges. “We don’t want to mock,” Brian continued, and then Casey laid down the last line — “but you gotta lock that jock into a tube sooooooock!” Once again she carried the last syllable long enough for a harmony and Brian didn’t disappoint, soaring into a clear falsetto as they vamped to crescendo and then closure; the crowd wasn’t large but they erupted into applause and cheers and at the mic Casey pointed towards the man in the front row with a shit-eating grin. “And that was our song about that guy’s penis!” she crowed. “Who’s next?”
Songbabies indeed, I thought.
Next to me at the bar a man sighed. “A new drummer and guitarist and they could really be something,” he said, holding a Heineken to his lips. “Of course, no more drinking onstage, and it would help if Casey would take a damn shower.”
I’d been watching the performance so intently that I didn’t notice my company but I regarded him now, well-dressed in a jacket but casual without a tie, hair neat and close-cropped. He turned to me with interest. “You’re a kid,” he said. “Would you go see these guys again? How much would you pay?”
I shrugged and stammered, not sure how to explain that the question was irrelevant, but he raised an eyebrow and waited for my answer while Casey and Brian traded riffs and banter.
“I might — I’m not –” the man’s persistent gaze made me more nervous than usual. “I’m a friend of Brian’s,” I said at last. “A guitarist.”
“Oh,” said the man, with instant understanding. “Keith, right?”
“Kevin,” I said, confused, and the man set down his drink and offered his hand. “Dave Steiner,” he said, pumping my wrist. “I own Record Revolution, just up the street.” He said it like I should be impressed and I was; I’d never been to the place but Brian talked about Record Rev like a kind of Shangri-La and I knew that Dave Steiner wanted to be the band’s manager, that he thought he could take them to the next level.
“Glad to finally meet you, Kevin,” said Dave, sipping from his green bottle. “If you’re any good, we might be able to go places.” He frowned. “Although we need a new name, too. The Silver Cleavelands? What the fuck is that?”
My parents were not keen about my dropping out of school but the apartment in Montreal was paid for and they could barely afford my tuition anyway; I turned sixteen in August and was legally free to go, to venture northward alongside Brian and Casey and Jeremy. They were all eager for it — Brian hadn’t bothered applying to any colleges and Casey was paying for art school with a mountain of student loans and Jeremy was unemployed in his parents’ garage, and the idea of a steady gig was a dream come true for them. I was the only one who seemed to be leaving his future behind but to quit school for the guitar and the company of Brian and Casey felt like impossible good luck.
Mike had left the band when I joined, gone in a huff, and though no new drummer revealed himself Jeremy kept up well enough. Brian began practicing his French to impress the Quebecouis girls and Casey delighted in a whole new language to play with, and I regretted having taken Latin instead. Dave Steiner came with us when we moved, driving the rented van with guitars and a drum kit and amps, suitcases of clothes and boxes of books and four rambunctious teenagers who spent the nine-hour drive diving at the radio and insulting each other and tapping out songs on the dashboard, roving, uninhibited, alive.
The apartment was small but sunny while the Tavern Club, where we were installed as the new house band, was bigger and darker, more lavish than the Grog Shop but not by much. It sat in a patch of sex shops and strip clubs, leaving me embarrassed as Brian and Jeremy high-fived, and the clientele was a determined bunch of drunks who did not seem disposed to tolerate twee ditties about a penis. When we unpacked in the apartment it was nearly identical wardrobes: the band had a uniform now, an outfit that Dave and Casey had fought over for months (“I won’t dress like Madonna,” she insisted, over and over, certain that grunge would have its moment any day now) — finally they agreed on jeans, clean and belted, with short-sleeved black button-down shirts. I thought we looked like waiters but nobody had asked for my opinion.
Playing each night was more difficult than I thought it would be, tiring in a whole new way as the drunks threw beer cans at the stage or more often just ignored us, talking, shouting, over our careful noise. At first Casey and Brian threw beer cans back but on the third week a brawl erupted and the club owner paid us a visit and said if it ever happened again we’d be shipped back to Ohio without a second thought. I didn’t entirely mind the idea of returning to dinners cooked by my mother and the familiar structure of stern Jesuit authority but Brian and Casey and Jeremy were hooked on our new lifestyle, independent in a country where they could all legally drink, and we figured that if we couldn’t win the crowd over with force then maybe we should try some really bitchin’ tunes instead.
None of us woke up before noon and it was another hour or so before the rest of my bandmates sobered up but after that Casey and Brian were glued to the sofa with acoustic guitars and a pad of paper, strumming and scribbling and occasionally high-fiving. I tried to be useful and help out but found myself irrelevant to their process — it wasn’t linear but it was effective, pushing and pulling against their biases; Casey veered between playful obfuscation and an aggressive, bluesy directness, while Brian cut straight down the middle with a romantic sensibility and an ear for lush melody. Sometimes I heard my name, as I stood in the tiny kitchen eating a bowl of cereal: “Kevin will be able to shred this” or “Imagine Kev doing it twice as fast” or “The kid can figure it out.” I liked that they relied on my talent and the songs weren’t bad, either, catchy uptempo rock candy that didn’t have the patrons of the Tavern Club handing out Grammies but also stopped them tossing bottles at us, which was enough of a victory for me.
A few months after we arrived Dave Steiner showed up with a wardrobe change: skinny silver ties for each of us. We thought he was kidding at first but he told us we could wear them loose and Casey, of course, began to grumble: “How the fuck do I even tie this thing?” she said, and Dave told Jeremy to show her. “And Casey,” he said. “I want you to start wearing your hair in a ponytail. A neat one,” he added, as she pointed to her messy topknot.
With the ties on he regarded the rest of us with a critical air, pointing to me and Brian. “You two,” he said. “Need haircuts.”
I went to get my jacket as Brian and Casey protested, but Dave Steiner held firm and as we left Casey shouted at him: “You know, none of this is making us better musicians,” she said, and Dave paused in the doorway.
“No,” he said. “But it will help people take you seriously as performers.”
Whether it was because of our new look, or the continued expansion of our original catalog, or the boredom inspired by the interminable Montreal winter — around March people started to pay attention to us, newcomers dropping in on the Tavern Club just to see what all the fuss was about. We became stars of the local bar scene and Brian and Jeremy brought home different girls just about every night; I discovered what it meant to have groupies in the middle of April, after a show, kissing a lovely girl who was a freshman at McGill — we’d kissed before, my first time, the previous Friday — and then finding myself dragged into a dirty Tavern Club bathroom, pants unzipped, as she knelt in front of me.
Being a rock star, I decided, was not such a bad thing.
Casey never brought guys home, preferring to spend the night out, and I asked her about it one morning (early afternoon, technically) as she stood at the counter with coffee and a pen. She looked up at me from the napkin where she was doodling — Casey was an inveterate doodler and her napkins were taped in the kitchen, haphazard, stuffed with fanciful figures and snatches of aborted lyrics so that the wall looked like the acid dreams of a New Yorker cartoonist — and she winked at me and took a sip of coffee. “Easier to escape,” she said, and at sixteen years old, living away from home as a professional musician, I thought this was the greatest wisdom I’d ever heard.
After a year in Canada we went back to Cleveland, where Dave wanted us to try a new drummer he’d found — I felt like we were betraying Jeremy, meeting in a studio in the Warehouse District like secret agents, but Manny Mooney had a generous smile and a skilled playfulness that made me like him immediately. I could tell that Casey and Brian felt the same way but Casey insisted that Dave be the one to break the news to Jeremy. “This is a business decision,” she said, even though it wasn’t, not entirely — but Casey could bend Dave to her will, sometimes, with the right smile or wink or laugh, and he caved to her now, agreeing with the facade.
Manny fell easily into our rhythms, easygoing and goofy in contrast to my quiet intensity; we both stood against the impenetrable bond of Casey and Brian, he smooth and charming where she was sly and compelling. Brian’s family, I had learned, might have had more money than mine but it was not unbroken — his mother had died just like Casey’s, who’d grown up with an aunt on the East Side, and they were like lost siblings, argumentative, competitive, best friends. I could only ever be the kid brother.
By the time the first album reached number one we had acquired just enough discipline to keep our cool about it all — the crowds shrieked and whooped on Leno and Letterman, SNL and TRL and the Today Show, but we’d been put through the grind in the eighteen months since we left the Tavern Club, driven in another beat-up van all across America to play a different country fair or dingy bar each night and then, once we had ourselves a real live record deal, ferried around Europe to open at larger venues for bigger acts. The cheering and screaming was impossible to ignore but we could put it aside long enough to perform at least, and perform we did, over and over again as the world fell in love.
Dave had coached us and when we were interviewed it was with a consistent image: not just our jeans and shirts and ties but our roles too, Brian smiling and winking at the girls, Manny laid-back and laconic. Casey made jokes and said things about song structure and politics and never, ever mentioned the fact that she was dating a guy back in Cleveland — we’d all been told to project romantic availability but Casey too was ordered to keep her femininity under wraps. “Not in a dyke way,” Dave had said, with a furrowed brow. “Just like a rock star, not a girl.” People remembered it anyway and rumors flared that she was dating Brian, dating Manny, dating me (I think Dave was a little hurt that there were never any rumors about him). I stayed in the background, playing guitar and smiling and not saying much. They called me “The Quiet One” and magazines said I was coy, sweet, a gentleman.
Recording the album had been supercharged with excitement but it was released with minimal fanfare. Our second album was pushed forward on a schedule that had Casey and Brian sleepless from songwriting and there was a party in New York, a lavish concert on the label’s dime. Casey was running late and Brian asked Dave where she was with accusation in his voice.
“She’ll be here,” said Dave.
Forty minutes later she appeared, had a few brief and covert words with Dave and then shouldered her guitar. We trotted onstage to monstrous applause and played the shit out of our twelve new songs, the same infectious catchy rock that had launched us into orbit eight months earlier, and afterwards the record label people and the MTV executives, the hangers-on and the supermodels and the reporters from Spin and Rolling Stone, descended upon us in a frenetic rush of flashbulbs and handshakes, sushi and champagne. We tolerated the glad-handing as long as we could stand but inside of an hour Brian caught my eye and I tapped Manny’s arm; Casey was already in the bathroom when we locked the door on the party and collapsed against the wall together, giggling. Brian pulled out a bottle of champagne, hidden as though anyone might have stopped us, and we passed it around although Casey declined, which was rare but didn’t seem to surprise Brian.
“They want us to make a movie,” I said after a swig, grinning. “Not just a video, but something for the theaters.”
“We’re not pretty enough for the movies!” said Manny. “They’ll have to put me behind drums for the whole thing.”
“This one’s pretty enough,” said Casey, pointing a sarcastic thumb at Brian. “The movie will just be two hours of his face. The girls will love it.” Brian smiled and put his hands under his chin, batting his eyelashes and mugging and from either side Casey and Manny elbowed him until he fell forward, laughing. The bottle of champagne sat on the floor in front of us and the party hummed outside and I thought, no other nineteen-year-old has ever lived so well.
“Where were you today, Case?” I asked. She shrugged but Brian was staring at her and finally, looking at the floor, she said “I saw a doctor.”
Manny grabbed the champagne but Brian sighed. “Dave made you do it, huh?” he said, and Casey shrugged again. At last she met my gaze and said “I had an abortion,” the words all in a rush. I blinked and she added, “You can’t tell anybody.”
There was an uncomfortable pause. “Does Jim know?” asked Manny, referring to Casey’s boyfriend back in Cleveland, the obvious father. Casey shook her head.
“The label decided he didn’t need to know,” she said and then looked at the door like the label had decided that the rest of us didn’t need to know either.
“Bummer,” said Manny. “Yeah,” I breathed, wondering what was going on outside this dim bathroom. Casey seemed to read my thoughts.
“They told me to lay off the sauce tonight, but, whatever,” she said, grinning, grabbing the champagne from Manny and holding it by the neck, taking a slug. “So what’s this movie supposed to be about anyway, Kev?”
International superstardom makes one an easy target but by our fourth album — one released each year — it became apparent that there really was music rising in counterpoint to our chart-topping domination: Casey had predicted it years ago and finally grunge was having its day. We couldn’t be as cynical as anything coming out of Seattle — the label wouldn’t have tolerated it well and it wasn’t much in our natures beside — but Brian and Casey’s songwriting was expansive enough for this new languorous sound. Critics labeled us inauthentic but as we enfolded the rainy sounds of the Northwest Casey was already listening outwards, transfixed by beats and rhythms emerging from rap and hip-hop and especially Latin music. Brian had taken some classes at the Cleveland Institute of Music — he lived with the director one summer in a posh Shaker Heights mansion while he dated her daughter — and his symphonic sensibilities were less sympathetic to the sound, but Casey made it magical; not just snare and piano or rumba and hyphy but expression, organic, unmediated, fomenting from unheard streets. This is poetry, she said, and I was hooked.
I was the one who discovered Pablo Guiterrez: he lived outside Oaxaca and had never played a chord but they called him the Musicmaker for his work, spiritual guidance to tango composers and flamenco strummers and cumbia stars — all the Latin world, it seemed, stood in unanimous adoration. “He can unblock us,” I said, and Manny spread his hands wide, grinning.
“What does that even mean?” he said, but Casey cocked her head.
“I don’t think we need unblocking,” said Brian. I looked at Casey.
“Tell me more,” she said, and three months later we were in Mexico.
Pablo Guiterrez was old and thin, thick-haired with a wiry smile. He spoke in sonorous tones and his ranch was on a cliff in the jungle, patrolled by armed guards. The guards spooked Brian and Manny’s eyebrows had been raised from the moment Dave approved the trip but I thought it was beautiful, and Casey’s quiet contemplation made me think she did too. We sat on cushions on the hardwood floor, sunlight bouncing off of white concrete walls, sipping mate as a peacock tapped at the wrought-iron window.
“Join hands,” said Pablo, and we did. “Let us form the sacred circle and allow the voice of the universe to flow through us,” he said, and there was a guffaw and a tug at my right. I opened my eyes.
“I can’t do this,” said Manny. “I’m sorry, but… good luck, guys. Kev.” He patted me once on the back, smiling his easy smile, and turned and walked out the door before any of us could say a word.
Pablo was unperturbed.
“Not everyone is ready to receive the wisdom of the cosmos,” he said. “Let the circle form anew. We are smaller now, so the vibrations will be amplified.” Brian looked troubled but said nothing and we closed our eyes and breathed deep.
Before he was the Musicmaker, I learned, Pablo had been the Medicine Man, and he led us in shamanic ritual for hours each day, drinking mate, smoking peyote, encountering the primal flow. I heard Brian talking to Casey in the room next to mine each night, more and more agitated as time went on.
“I think maybe Manny was right,” he said. “I’m not too sure about this guy.”
The next day: “You know, you can’t hide out here forever.”
Then: “I think Kevin’s getting a little too into it.”
“He’s a grownup,” said Casey. “You can talk to him about it.” He did, ten minutes later, tentative.
“I think we’re being taken for a ride,” he said, not quite meeting my eyes. I sat on my bed, leaning against the wall with my guitar in hand, the cosmic breeze still fluttering in my ear from the last peyote trip like the sea in a conch shell.
“Casey thinks it’s working,” I said, my hands lazy against the strings. Brian sighed.
“Casey is escaping the fact that she and Jim are over. And Pablo is taking advantage of that! He’s… he’s preying on it, and it’s ridiculous!”
“I think it’s working,” I said, calm against Brian’s growing agitation. I looked him in the eye. “What am I escaping from?”
Brian gaped and fumbled for words. I closed my eyes and found a chord that vibrated nicely through my spine, and the next morning at breakfast Brian was gone. “What’s up with you and Jim?” I asked, over goat milk and arrowroot crepes laid out by the chef, piled high with strawberries. Casey shrugged and drank white tea.
“It’s hard to love a rock star,” she said. And then: “Or maybe it’s just hard to love me.”
I stared at her but her face was closed, her eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses and focused somewhere far away.
“Anyway,” she said, setting down her mug and offering a half-smile, “let’s go to the mate cleanse, huh? Don’t want to keep Pablo waiting.”
Manny’s departure didn’t seem to have made much of an impression on Casey — even I hadn’t anticipated that he’d be quite on board with it — but as time wore on Brian’s absence seemed to resonate more and more, stronger even than the universal vibrations we encountered in daily peyote ritual — I took the opportunity to dive even deeper into the mystical realm but Casey’s growing hesitation was palpable, even to me. After two months she knocked on my door.
“We gotta go,” she said, interrupting my meditation.
“Back. New York, Cleveland — I don’t care. But we can’t keep staying here.”
My eyes snapped open. “Why not?”
Casey sat on the edge of my bed. “What are you trying to get out of this, Kev?” she asked, looking at me, and I stumbled for an answer.
“I thought,” I said finally, “that we were exploring universal rhythms. Finding — finding peace.”
“I just don’t think this is the right way,” she said, gentle and careful in the way the way that had always drawn me towards her; but now I rebelled at the authority.
“Whatever,” I snapped. “If you want to follow Brian and Manny, go ahead. I’m staying here.” Casey chewed her lip and left my room without saying anything, and that night I could not summon a cosmic melody no matter how hard I tried.
For the next two days Casey said nothing more about it but I could feel her eyes on me, an unflinching critical gaze that I tried to shrug off so that I might properly transcend — but Casey’s intensity had always been its own presence and her hesitation was impossible to ignore. My resentment impeded the universal flow but Casey’s obdurate skepticism didn’t waver.
On the third day after our conversation we squared off over breakfast.
“I’m not leaving,” I said, and she shrugged.
“I’m not leaving you here alone,” she said, and I was enraged.
“You’re not my babysitter,” I snapped, with the pique of always being the youngest. Casey didn’t flinch.
“No,” she said. “I’m your bandmate. So let’s get the fuck out of here and play some music again.”
“I’m not leaving,” I repeated, but for the first time I heard past the condemnation of Pablo to a plea for music: music, music that we hadn’t been playing in months.
“We are near the core of the journey,” Pablo told us that day, immune or just oblivious to the judgment permeating the air. I had a bad trip, drowning in a wet ocean of noise, and that night Casey stood firm.
“Enough of this shit,” she said, dropping her bag on my floor. “We’re leaving.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said, still peyote-weak.
“We’re leaving,” she said again. She stood in my doorway with arms crossed, not looking at me, and after a few minutes I got up and started packing.
Despite the later mythology we didn’t all hate Rodrigo from the start; what we hated was his omnipresence, the invasion of our world of four. Dave probably could’ve kept a lid on it, talked some sense into Casey, but Dave had dropped dead of a heart attack not long after we returned from Mexico and in the vacuum of his absence marched this quiet but opinionated Brazilian designer, who worked in Buenos Aires and had shows in London and, to the puzzlement of the world, transfixed Casey beyond anything we’d ever seen. “He is not my muse,” she said in interviews, “he is my music — expressive, visceral, necessary — we are each other’s creativity.” Manny put up with it all with a raised eyebrow and a smirk but Brian fell into open revolt when the black-haired, serious South American began to sit in on songwriting sessions.
“I don’t bring Liza to the studio,” said Brian, who also waxed poetic in magazines about his creative collaborations with his wife. “I just don’t think we need him here.”
“Yeah,” said Casey, without looking at Brian. “It must be much easier to write hit ballads about my unborn children without Rodrigo in the room.”
“I’m going to take a shit,” Manny announced, striding out of the room, his declaration deflating less of the tension than he might’ve hoped. Rodrigo sat on a chair in the corner, placid, unruffled. I thought I should say something, participate, prove that I actually belonged here, but I could barely exhale in the rigid air and I’d always been the quiet one, anyway.
We’d been a band for almost a decade now; the question of how much longer any of us could belong hung in the shadows, as unyielding as Casey’s new boyfriend.
“It can’t just end this way,” said Brian one afternoon, when the end was well in sight, and nobody said a word.
“I mean…” he added. “We can’t just disappear.”
The silence was more thoughtful now. “We haven’t played a concert in years,” I said, and a slow smile spread on Casey’s face.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
“When?” said Brian, and Casey shrugged.
“How about now?” She hopped off her stool and was halfway to the door when Manny asked where she was going.
Casey paused. “The subway,” she said, throwing the studio door open. “Hey!” she called into the mixing booth. “Give us a hand, huh?”
Our engineers were skeptical but they each took an amp and Rodrigo helped carry the drum kit and we walked out the front door, Casey at the helm, one crowded half-block and then down the stairs. A busker was already playing bad guitar and as we set up next to him he complained that we were turfing him out; but then he saw who were were and said “Whoa.” It wasn’t crowded, not yet rush hour, and in twenty minutes we were well set and started to jam. We played for ninety minutes and the crowd swelled around us, trains coming and going as some commuters ignored us and others took pictures and waved cell phones. New York was still reeling, stunned from the rupture of 9/11 one month earlier, and in a different time the transit police might have shut us down but now they just kept careful patrol, quiet and respectful like the people on the platform — we were mourning and celebrating many things but for ninety minutes, in the bowels of a Manhattan streetcorner, there was music, and that was enough.
None of us had lived in Cleveland for years but once we split we scattered too, atomized across the globe: Brian stayed in New York and Manny moved to sunny Malibu, I headed for the sanctuary of Marin County and Casey, vocal in her opposition to wars and PATRIOT Acts and freedom fries, went to London with Rodrigo. Brian’s record came out first — he had a new band practically before we were even over, he and Liza together — and they scored a single even more potent than any of ours with their glistening alt-country ode to the prairie, just the kind of sentimental pop the country was crying for. Casey called it “treacly” and “shit” and recorded protest songs with Rodrigo, the two of them pulling stunts all over Europe, performing a concert in full burqas and walking through the streets of Paris in tunics made of potatoes.
She came back to the States two years later when they separated, partying in LA and Seattle with old friends from the grunge scene — it was in all the tabloids — but even the respectable publications rallied to the cause when she was detained at the airport and it was revealed that she’d been put on the terrorist watch list. “I’m just trying to get home to London,” she said, nearly a year after she arrived. “Rodrigo and I are planning to start a family.” Manny had shown up in a few of the tabloid photos and it made the front page of CNN.com when she and Brian had dinner together in Hollywood but I just watched it all unfold, comfortable with my quiet life.
We all had families by then and finally, finally Casey did too. She went back to London and got pregnant and then she disappeared, out of the spotlight, out of the newspapers; I even wrote her out of my autobiography. Manny said she was really hurt about it but I couldn’t quite care, playing guitar for myself for the first time in what felt like forever. “I just talked to her last night,” Brian told reporters on the day she died, teary-eyed as he landed in Heathrow, but I couldn’t have said the same thing for years.
When she re-emerged it was with Rodrigo by her side, a new album in the offing and a stillness that I’d only ever seen in her before when she was performing — but now she carried it everywhere, or she did until she was shot. They said it was a crazed fan and I remembered the heady days when we’d ruled the world, when screaming hordes followed us and normalcy became an impossible dream, and I thought: they were all crazed, back then — we were too, but somehow nobody died. Cleveland filled with mournful pilgrims and there was a candlelight vigil on the plaza of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, stretching for blocks down closed streets, people crowding into the Grog Shop or hundreds of miles away in the Tavern Club to share memories, condolence, shock, the world riveted by one motherless five-year-old boy. The papers spilled endless ink in praise of the Marks-O’Hara songwriting partnership and Rodrigo pled for a more hopeful world to emerge from the tragedy.
It all felt remote, years and miles apart from the life I was inhabiting now, and once again I was glad to be the Quiet One.