Artwork by Jason Stephenson
It seems like a lifetime, but it was actually 10 years ago that I started a band called Goodbyewave. Well, it was just me at first. Then in 2006 I started playing with a drummer named Jack. Jack had been my neighbor for nearly 10 years prior to that but I’d never actually played with him. I knew who he was. I’ve known him since I was a kid when I’d ride my bike back in the woods behind my parent’s house. Jack and his wife built one of the first houses in the Pines. I remember riding my bike by his house and hearing him playing his drums to Led Zeppelin and being impressed. For a kid who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin with his parents and then hearing some guy playing along perfectly to “Black Dog” out in the woods, well I was pretty floored.
Anyways, one day back in 2006 Jack walked over to the house while I was outside mowing the yard and he introduced himself. He asked if I still played guitar(he had remembered seeing my old band coming over back in the late 90s.) I said yeah but just on my own. He suggested we should get together some time to just jam and I said sure. So he started coming over in the afternoons after work and we began messing around with some riffs and song ideas I had. From the summer of 2006 clear through to the summer of 2007 we would get together and jam and record. We ended up with an album’s worth of material and called it Bright Lights, Strange Nights. One of my oldest friends created the album art and my old guitar teacher mastered the whole thing. I made the CDs at home on my computer and printed off the inserts at home as well. I think it was as DIY as it gets. I think it turned out to be a pretty decent album, and I’m proud of it to this day. A lot of it was pure collaboration, between me and Jack. We’d get an idea and just run with it. It was one of the most fruitful times of my life creatively. I’d played in a band before, but I was still figuring out who I was as a songwriter. By the time Jack came around I was pretty comfortable with my songwriting. I just needed a musical partner to help me bring the songs to life. Jack was my musical partner.
For five years Jack and I would get together in my makeshift studio in my basement and we’d write and record songs together. In those five years we created four albums and one EP. Even though Jack was 16 years older than me, we connected on a musical level. His musical tastes weren’t necessarily my cup of tea, but he dug what I was writing. Other than playing in lousy cover bands that would play gigs at a local strip club, Jack had never played with someone that wrote their own music. And since I’d never played with someone that could play “Tom Sawyer” by Rush really well I think we were the perfect fit for each other. For a time, anyways.
As with most people that consider themselves an artist of some sort, I was wanting to go into new territory with my music. I wanted to try more electronic stuff, more garage-y stuff, and Jack was kind of a one-trick pony. He never did much with the high-hat except keep it tight. I wanted the drums to be brasher, louder, and more experimental. Jack just kept things conservative and uniform. I told him I wanted to record an album on my own and he acted like I’d told him to go to Hell. I ended up recording an album under my own name, but by the end of it I was kind of spent(it was an emotional group of songs and I was dealing with some personal stuff), so I was ready to get back to having a musical partner. I started demoing songs and giving them to him so he could learn them on his own to help save time. What it actually did was show me I didn’t really need the musical partner anymore. At least not Jack. We finished the album called Dog Days and I instantly went back into solo mode and put out a scrappy little album under the name Sunnydaymassacre. It was recorded on a beat up Tascam 4-track cassette recorder in like 3 weeks. I hadn’t had that much fun writing and recording since I first started playing with Jack.
This was the end of Jack and I.
I told him I just didn’t have time to play anymore. With the kids getting older and more school activities the time wasn’t there. He said that’s fine. Take a break. Then when I was ready we could reconvene. Instead, I just began writing and recording on my own. I started this blog and found a whole new voice I could speak with. A whole new virtual crew of like-minded folks. Music wasn’t the be all end all. Music was something fun I could do when I had the time and inclination. Plus, I found that being a dad and hanging out watching cartoons and playing with Star Wars action figures with my kids was kind of fun. Jack was looking like a guy trying to hold onto a youth that had grown up without him. A guy not willing to move on and grow. I just couldn’t relate to him anymore.
So once this break began, Jack would occasionally walk over on summer days and ask how things were; ask about the kids, the job, how nice my yard looked, and then get around to music. He’d ask if I was still playing, and ask if maybe I’d have time to just jam or something. I’d give him the obligatory answers about my life and then tell him I just really didn’t have time to play. Not at that point. Maybe during Christmas break, or when school got less crazy for the kids. He’d say sure, no problem. Just give him a call when time would free up. I’d say sure. He’d walk back over to his house and down another Mike’s Hard Lemonade and go about his odd behavior.
The thing with Jack is that he has Multiple Sclerosis. He was diagnosed in his 20s and was even paralyzed at first. But this guy started at a point of looking at life in a wheelchair to running 5 miles a day, becoming a 4th degree black belt, and becoming a star R&D guy at one of the world’s premier orthopedic companies. He knew what he had to do to beat the disease and he did it. I’ve always admired Jack for that. Around 2011 he started having problems with his MS. His pain meds he’d been on for years started to fail him. He had to go on short term disability and take a series of tests and other meds to see what could work. MS was back and wasn’t going to leave. He would only come outside when it was extremely hot. One day he came over and told me he was going to go into his backyard and cut some really tall weeds down and wondered if I’d keep an eye on him from our house. Just to make sure he didn’t pass out from the heat. I said sure. About 20 minutes later I looked out the front window and noticed Jack was sitting down on the ground with the weed wacker still running. I ran over and he was mumbling and crying, not making any sense. My wife came running over with ice water and a cool rag. I sat there with him and consoled him till his son arrived home. One other time we were in our kitchen when there was a knock on the garage door. It was Jack. He was talking about people needing to get together and get things going. People needed to get their ideas happening. He acted like he was drunk. He was sweating like crazy. He asked if he could have a cold rag. I tried talking to him and he started crying and not making any sense. Our kids were in the living room and got a little freaked out about the whole thing. He eventually went back home and the next day came by to talk and acted as if it never happened.
This had become the norm.
I started closing the garage door to avoid any Jack visits. Every time I’d see him outside he’d be acting strangely or he’d be inebriated. The other neighbors said they heard a banging on the side of their house one night and it turned out to be Jack kicking a kickball at their house. It was 1 am. It got to the point that I’d avoid going outside if he was out. I knew that his behavior had a lot to do with his MS. The docs throwing him onto new meds when old ones weren’t working. He went from short term disability to long term disability. I know that was emasculating for him, as he was always on the go at work. He traveled the world, only to be grounded in the pines.
Why am I bringing all this up? Well, I was outside Friday afternoon trying to clean up the leaves before our first snowfall. I had my noise-cancelling headphones on when I turned and there was Jack. He was looking at me smiling and waving. I turned off the leaf blower and took off the headphones. We had small talk about the kids, the job, how nice the yard looked. Then of course he asked if I was still playing music. I told him when I had time. It was hard with work, the kids in school, and my writing. I told him I was messing around with a synthesizer lately and this look of sheer disappointment came over his face. He said “You’re so talented, you could do more than that.” I told him they were harder to learn than he thought. He said “Well, I guess that’s alright.” He then said he missed playing with me, and that maybe if I ever had even 30 minutes to just get together and jam that would be great. I’d been down this road with him before, and I know I should’ve laid on the hard reality that I had no interest to ever play with him again, but I told him maybe if I have some time over Christmas break I’d call him. He said “That’s all I ask. That would be great.” He was either already drunk or on some pain meds. He was slurring his words. The thin and fit guy I used to play music with was puffy in the face and had a gut on him. His hair had gone from brown to white and was thinning. He looked old and tired, but the talk of playing music lit up his face. I told him I needed to finish up the yard because I had to leave to pick up my son from school so he said no problem. I put my hand out to shake his and we shook hands. I said “It was good talking to you Jack. Take care.” He said “You too, buddy.” At that point I had this overwhelming feeling of sadness. I didn’t feel sorry for him. It wasn’t that. I just felt a sadness for that musical relationship and the friendship we had for five years and how it was gone. How he never moved on from it. The onset of our musical demise seemed to line up painfully perfect with the return of that monster called Multiple Sclerosis that haunted him all those years ago. I gave Jack a big hug and said I’d talk to him soon. He smiled and said “I can’t wait, Bud!” He left and I put my headphones back on and began blowing leaves once more.
I don’t know if I’ll call Jack or not. The time really isn’t there like it used to be. I wasn’t lying about that. But something in me makes me think time will never be there if you don’t make it yourself. And maybe I should make time for my old drummer friend Jack. What would it hurt?
Nothing I suppose.
Editor’s Note: This is not an ad for my music. This is a tribute to a guy that helped me make some music that was in my head. But for the curious, I’ve included a few highlights of the “Jack” years. Feel free to peruse them. You can check out all of the albums here if you like. There is also a video of the only live Goodbyewave performance, recorded at Wooden Nickel Music in May of 2010. My good friend Shane Darin Page played bass for the show.