Back when life was simpler and a lot less sad, I went out to see bands because I thought music might save my life. Music as a life saver? Please do tell.
Lot’s been written about Mark by me and others. In death, there is a tendency to enlarge one’s life, or attribute qualities to people in the dead person’s life that may or may not have been present. In Mark’s case, he was the real deal. I did my best as a dad and things turned out pretty well until last January.
In 1986, I was simply a father and husband with a three-year-old son. We were living on a dead-end street in Chesterton, Indiana.
Mark had a tricycle and was making a few friends in the neighborhood. I worked at a prison and Mary had just started working breakfast at Wendy’s prior to me heading off to the med room at Westville Correctional Facility.Things were looking up for our little family, trying to scrape together enough money to return to Maine. I also had aspirations of being something more than an hourly wage slave. It would take me another 15 years to recognize that the writing muse was calling. Unable to recognize its beckoning however, caused considerable frustration and angst in my mid-20s.
Besides one co-worker a few years younger than me, I didn’t know anyone that I’d call a friend save for a student I met at Purdue University’s satellite campus just a few miles from where I worked. I enrolled in a business management course, along with a philosophy class. That’s where I met Leo.
I’d just scored a cheap Japanese knock-off of the classic Gibson Les Paul and he taught me a few chords. I really sucked as a guitar player, but plugging it into the boom box (that was my first amp) and coaxing a few properly-fingered G and D chords made me feel like life might get better.
Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely adored both my young and beautiful wife (that I’ve now been married to for 35 years in July) and the increasingly-active son that was the apple of his dad’s eye—it’s just that I was contending with lots of mixed messages that many mid-20s young men struggle with in a world knocked off-kilter. Rock and roll offered an outlet of sorts and periodically, I’d head off to Chicago (sometimes with Leo and sometimes all alone), attending shows at clubs like Caberet Metro and Park West.
The former was geared towards punk and alternative rock. I once saw a show that featured SoCal punks The Descendants, DC3 (fronted by ex-Black Flag member, Dez Cadena), and Canadian punk gods DOA (from Vancouver, BC). Park West is where I caught Hüsker Dü (from Minneapolis). Never in my life have I ever seen a power trio create a wall of sound the likes emanating from the stage and members Bob Mould, Greg Norton, and the late Grant Hart.
I was sad when I heard that Hart died last week from complications associated with liver cancer. He was just a year older than me. That means that when I saw him, he was likely struggling with many of the same issues I was tilting at. His choice was music (and drug usage), yet he and his mates offered catharsis for me.
Music is powerful and those of us that believe “rock and roll can never die” remember those days, while fewer of us still go out and catch live music. I’ll be out tonight in Portland, seeing The War on Drugs at The State Theater with my friend, Dave.
While running down sources for an article I’m on deadline for, and also experiencing additional grief with yet another death in our family, I read a few tributes to Hart this morning.
I especially enjoyed this one via Twitter from Bill Janovitz, who fronted Buffalo Tom, a Boston band that I was really into not long after falling for Hüsker Dü. Janovitz mentions the Hüskers’ influence on his own band, which was apparent to me in the early-1990s when we’d returned to Maine and I was hosting a weekly post-punk radio show on Bowdoin’s WBOR. I played a shit ton of Buffalo Tom back then as did most of the DJs into this genre of rock.
My thoughts flow back to buying Warehouse Songs and Stories on cassette at a Michigan City bookstore/record shop and playing it for two weeks straight. This was the band’s major label breakout and anyone who knows rock knows this is now considered a classic. At the time, all I knew is that I couldn’t get enough of it, and that Rolling Stone was also digging it. The bands I was into usually didn’t get 5-star reviews in rock music’s review bible.
Not sure how to tie all of this together other than to say that in sadness and grief, I’m glad that music still offers up relief from the pain and hurt that’s a constant these days.
I’ll close with a video of Hart and Co. playing the inspiration for today’s blog title on Joan Rivers’ late-night program. Mr. Hart is the very young drummer.