By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Since bands tend to change personnel more frequently than Kenneth Starr subpoenas interns, the majority of lineup shifts are of only passing interest. But every once in a while, there's a departure so odd that it begs to be looked at in detail. Such is the case with bassist Kirwan Brown, who recently left Opie Gone Bad, one of Denver's most popular bands, under circumstances that seem more than a little bizarre.
Right now, no one I've been able to find knows where Brown is residing: According to vocalist Jake Schroeder and guitarist Randy Chavez, Brown told them a few weeks ago that he was moving to Los Angeles to work as a studio musician, but they cannot confirm that he's there at present. Before he vanished, however, Brown sent me a six-page letter (sans a phone number or forwarding address) about the occurrences that led to his ouster. Schroeder and Chavez dispute significant portions of the missive and disagree with the spin Brown puts on other incidents. But true or not, it remains a remarkably weird and obsessive document.
As Brown tells it, tensions between him and the other bandmembers had been growing throughout 1997 for a variety of reasons, including musical disagreements and Brown's feeling that the group did not have a binding contract with Celsius Records, the Denver-based label that issued Opie's self-titled debut CD last year. (Brown, who had been associated with the company as a solo artist, was apparently upset because only Schroeder, rather than each individual member, had signed the pact.) Brown admits that he was not in the greatest shape during part of this period: At Schroeder's urging, he went to a psychiatrist who gave him a prescription for Zoloft ("a supposedly mild anti-depressant," Brown writes) and gave up alcohol. But he presents himself as an innocent victim of events that came to a head a few days before Christmas in Phoenix, in the midst of a good-sized tour.
Brown reports that shows in L.A., San Francisco and Phoenix were well-received--but after the last date, which was held on a Saturday, trouble began brewing. Gino Cherenzia, along as a road manager, needed a ride to see a friend of his, and Brown volunteered to drive him there in a recreational vehicle that had been rented for the tour. Upon his return, he parked the motor home near the front of the hotel where they were staying, as he swears Cherenzia instructed him to do--but in the process, he hit the hotel's awning, causing $600 damage to the RV's top-mounted air-conditioning unit. He writes that friction over the accident reached its apogee on Monday morning, when he asked Cherenzia to split the cost of the repairs with him, and Cherenzia (who was not even present when Brown smacked the awning) angrily told him no. A short time later, Brown says, Schroeder came to his room and announced, "Kirwan, you're fired. I'm canceling the rest of the tour, and I've got you a plane ticket home. You treat people like shit, you're too hard to work with. I don't want to work with you."
Pretty typical so far, right? But what happened next certainly isn't. In Brown's version, he headed to the lobby of the hotel only to find Schroeder ordering the plane ticket he had claimed was already on reserve. Brown, who had laundry he wanted to retrieve from a nearby laundromat before departing, claims that he tried to get Schroeder's attention--but when the singer would not acknowledge him, Brown tried to hang up the receiver Schroeder was holding. "As I reach over and tug on the phone cord," Brown's account goes on, "he suddenly jumps back and yells, 'He hit me! Call the police!'" Brown says that he left without further conflict and was picked up by a policeman while walking several blocks from the hotel. This officer and one other then took him back to his hotel room and ordered him to pack his belongings and leave. "At this point, I was really freaked out and pissed off and started hurling expletives at Jake," Brown states, "and the cops told me to shut up or I was going to county jail." (He describes Schroeder as reveling in his humiliation: "His favorite TV show, by the way, is Cops, and it was as if he was full of glee at suddenly starring in some imaginary episode.") The hotel manager subsequently drove Brown to the airport, symbolically ending the bassist's Opie tenure.
It likely won't come as a shock that the variation on this tale offered by Schroeder and Chavez differs substantially from Brown's. Both agree that Schroeder did not scream at Brown for any reason, and Schroeder says that he asked the hotel manager to alert the police because Brown, in trying to wrest the telephone from his hand, whacked him in the head with it. Moreover, he says that Brown was so overwrought and had been so relentlessly hateful to everyone around him since the trip began that he feared for his safety. Schroeder further emphasizes that he did not press any charges against Brown, and he believes that he did his best to make sure that the officers did not mistreat the bassist. There was no gloating over Brown's situation, he adds, noting, "I was crying when they were there. I was really upset.