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."
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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.
"What happened wasn't the reason Kirwan was fired; it was the final straw," Schroeder continues. "This is the last thing I wanted to do. I considered Kirwan a partner in a lot of things, and I probably spent more time with him than I did with my wife over the last two years. He's the best bass player I've ever heard; he's one of the most talented people on the planet. But he can be a very difficult person, and we'd have to walk on eggshells around him. In L.A. he had a full-on tantrum because he wanted to eat Indian food and Randy wanted to have a hamburger instead. It got to the point that I wanted to quit my own band just to get away from this guy. And that couldn't go on."
Michelle Hadden, a publicist for Celsius who accompanied the musicians during the tour in question, echoes these observations. "We have had a relationship with Kirwan because of his solo deal, so some of the stuff that he did wasn't all that surprising. It's great to have an artistic fire, but sometimes people get too close to the flame. There's a fine line between the realistic and the psychotic, and when you're not dealing with a realistic, sane person, you have to fix things. I don't care how talented you are; you can't treat people that way."
Clearly, Brown was not interested in leaving Opie Gone Bad quietly. In addition to sending yours truly the aforementioned letter, he gave copies of it to several area club owners--and Schroeder says Brown also phoned bookers to imply that the band would be a shadow of its former self without him.
Thus far, folks in charge of Denver and Boulder venues haven't heeded Brown's advice: Opie continues to get choice gigs and draw sizable crowds. In the meantime, Schroeder and Chavez insist that they are more interested in moving forward than they are in retaliating against their onetime comrade. They have already hired a new bassist--Windell Armour, a former member of the funk combo One Up who'll be splitting his time between Opie and Lyric, which features onetime Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine--and hope to pick up with touring where they left off in December. Plans call for Celsius to distribute the group's CD nationwide (at present, it's available only in Denver and a few other locations), and Hadden reveals that several national labels have expressed interest in the band.
"I think we're all comfortable with everything that's gone on," Schroeder concludes. "Celsius is excited about the future and so are we; we've got a great record, and we're going to support it. The whole thing with Kirwan was unfortunate, but it was necessary--and we wish nothing but the best for him."
Perhaps Brown, despite his letter, feels the same way. Then again, perhaps not.
And now, a collection of odds and ends--some odder than others.
"Tha Jam," set to take place on Friday, February 20, on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus, is an ambitious event. At 4 p.m. in the Aspen Room at the University Memorial Center, State of the Union editor/publisher Craig Smith moderates the First Annual Colorado Hip-Hop Summit, a panel discussion focusing on topics of interest to people involved in the local rap community. Recent Westword profile subject Kingdom ("Kingdom Comes," February 12) and others are expected to blab. The bash heats up at 8 that evening at CU's Glenn Miller Ballroom with a live performance by L.A. disc jockeys Babu and Rheumatic (part of the Beat Junkies crew). For more information, call 492-7704.
Acrobat Down (see "Without a Net," June 19, 1997) has signed an agreement with Santa Monica-based Crank Records. The first fruit of this deal is a strong seven-inch containing the songs "Beaver Falls Expected" and "Last Stand of the Soccer Moms." Chances are good that you can find a copy of the platter at Twist & Shout, a record store (and frequent Best of Denver award winner) at 300 E. Alameda that was recently nominated Retailer of the Year by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. Winners will be announced at a ceremony in San Francisco on March 17.
The Dalhart Imperials appear at the 15th Street Tavern on Friday, February 20, with a band--the Hot Club of Cowtown--that, strangely enough, doesn't come from Denver; the combo calls San Diego home. Other rockin' acts from far-flung locales are set to appear at the third annual Denver Rock N' Rhythm-Billy Weekend, scheduled for July 10 and 11 at the Holiday Inn, DIA, 15500 E. 40th Avenue. The bash, largely assembled by Dalhart bassist Kurt Ohlen, is already beginning to take shape: The Netherlands' own Ranch Girls and Their Ragtime Wranglers and Sweden's Eddie and the Flatheads are planning to appear on the same stage as headliner Joe Clay (an unsung hero of rockabilly's golden age) and other groups to be announced. Call Big K Productions at 455-8408 for details about tickets, directions and where to purchase butch wax.
If you put out a CD, you should celebrate it in public, right? That's the thinking of the following three acts. Brethren Fast, which is among the top two or three live draws in the city right now, has its second disc, What the Hell?, in the can; the brothers Messina will remove it on Saturday, February 21, at Herman's Hideaway. On the same night, the Hellafied Funk Crew, a Denver punk/funk band that recently relocated to Dallas, hypes its self-titled release on Parallax Entertainment at Area 39. And Ekoostik Hookah, which is based in Ohio but seemingly spends most of its time here, performs material from its new album, Where the Fields Grow Green, for patrons at Quixote's True Blue on Wednesday, February 25. The players also appear at Nederland's Moontime Grill on February 28 and the Fox in Boulder on March 3. Trying to pass for natives, aren't you, boys?
More for your entertainment dollar. On Friday, February 20, Chief Broom begins a two-night run at the Fox; Tab Benoit brings his guitar to Herman's Hideaway; the Snatchers and Painstake hurt so good at the Lion's Lair; and Steve Gorn and Ty Burhoe make Indian classical music at Cameron Church, 1600 South Pearl (the duo also appears on February 21 and 22 at Boulder's Star House Theater). On Saturday, February 21, the Fells join the Countdowns and Boss 302 at the 15th Street Tavern; (HED) P.E. has some capital ideas at the Lion's Lair; the Aquabats swim or sink at the Mammoth Events Center, with Primus and Blink 182; and the Denver Concert Band presents a program of twentieth-century American music--and just in time, too--at Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman Street. On Sunday, February 22, troubador John McCutcheon tells tales at Cameron Church, with Larry Sandberg; Loudon Wainwright III finds a dead skunk at the Boulder Theater during an E-Town taping with Janis Ian; Nina Storey and guests fly to the Soiled Dove; and Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets blast off at the Little Bear (the band also visits Brendan's on February 25). On Tuesday, February 24, Feeder opens for Everclear at the Ogden Theatre, and Decanonized battles bands at Cricket on the Hill. And on Wednesday, February 25, Dave Matthews chum Tim Reynolds wraps up Herman's, and the Ogden Theatre is the place to play with Toy Dolls. Safe for kids of all ages.
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