The Beatdown

Carolyn's Mother bids a fond farewell.

In this section just four months ago, I went on and on about how Carolyn's Mother had "a new lease on life." That June 10 issue had been on the stands less than 48 hours when Rhett Lee, Carolyn's frontman, informed me -- at the very show I'd hyped, no less -- that the band was about to become deader than disco.

Nostradamus I am not.

So this Saturday, October 16, one of the longest-running hometown acts will call it a day. To help usher these elder statesmen into retirement, a gang of Mootown luminaries -- Opie Gone Bad, Rachel's Playpen, Judge Roughneck, the Last Seen, Eric Shively, Spiv, Ion and Rexway, among others -- will perform their own renditions of Carolyn's Mother songs at Herman's Hideaway. File me under "others": Along with Rubber Planet, I'll perform "Waking Up the Stars," a song that made my top-ten list last year.

Long before I ever covered the music scene for this legendary fishwrap, I was a part of it -- as a musician. And before that, for as long as I can remember, I was a fan of it. So when I was invited to pay tribute to a band that I've always respected, I didn't have to be asked twice. The whole tribute concept was brilliant; my getting to be a part of it was just an added bonus.

"I don't remember when I thought of it. I'm sure it wasn't an original idea, because I never have any of those," Lee says. "Drew Hodgson and I just started talking about who we wanted to play at our last show. We started with just six bands, and we're like, 'We have to have this person, we have to have that person.' And it's up to like ten or eleven now. I'm really honored that everyone's doing it. We've got some of the top bands in town that are giving up the chance to gig somewhere else where they could have made some money, 'cause we already told everybody we can't pay them that night."

What, we're not getting paid? Sure, I've got love for this band -- but like Tina said, "What's love got to do with it?"

A lot, actually. Since Lee, guitarist Hodgson and erstwhile bassist Colin Burke formed Carolyn's Mother back on Valentine's Day 1992, it's never been about money. In fact, in the early days, the band spent most of what it earned promoting itself.

"That's one big thing that's changed completely since we started," Lee says. "For one thing, there was no Internet. Literally, we would send out hundreds and hundreds of postcards. We spent most of the money we ever made sending postcards to people. Seriously, I can't tell you how much money we spent on postage. With the Internet and e-mail and everything, that's obviously not needed anymore."

It seems like a lifetime ago that the scene got wired. And for Lee, it pretty much was. He was still a teenager when Carolyn's Mother came together, and it's the only group he's ever known, so it's understandable that he has mixed emotions about the farewell gig.

"I've been telling people, it's kind of like graduating high school," he explains. "I'm excited for it, but I'm also sad. These are guys that I've been in a band with for almost half my life. It's weird to just step away from that."

And he's not the only one who's wistful. When the final chords ring out, it will mark the end of an era for many. "We've grown up with our fans," he points out. "I was seventeen when we started this band. Now I'm married, living in suburbia with my family. And we've kind of seen that happen with our fans, too, which is cool. This one couple that I'm thinking of, they got engaged at one of our shows, years ago. They have a daughter now, and they named her Carolyn."

That's dedication, folks. With fans like that, Carolyn's Mother could have gone on forever. So why retire the band now?

"You can always speculate one way or the other -- what happened here, what happened there," says Lee. "But honestly, none of us have been really interested in being rock stars for a good five years. We toured constantly for four years, and when we were done with that, we were ready to throw it in then."

Still, the group held together -- long enough, in fact, to outlast not only countless other outfits, but nearly a half-dozen trends, from grunge and ska-core to neo-swing and nü-metal. "One overlying thing that kept us going when we wanted to throw it in was debt," Lee reveals. "But honestly, I think it's just become second nature. Neither Drew nor I really know how to just live normal adult lives, because we've had this as a big part of it our entire adult lives. So it's become a kind of thing where, until it becomes noticeably not fun, we just kept doing it.

"It hasn't stopped being fun," he adds. "We both just decided at the beginning of this year that this was the last year. So we knew this is it, let's have a blast. And we have, we've had a great time. And Miles and Chris, the two new guys, they don't want to quit, for sure, because they're new to it."

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