I had planned to spend a quiet night at home, re-alphabetizing my CDs while listening to warbly mixtapes from high school girlfriends. Fortunately, I was saved from this fate by an early evening phone call from the Swayback’s Bill Murphy, who informed me that he would be joining Swayback bassist Eric Halborg and various other musicians to play some live music at Rockbar before Halborg’s standing Wednesday night DJ set. The prospect of an acoustic open mic night, helmed by two startlingly talented musicians, was enough to tear me away from the Information Society track that was chirping away in my stereo.
What I saw when I walked into Rockbar is exactly what I love about our incestuous scene and what makes it so special. Super-DJ Michael Trundle greeted me as I came through the door. A few barstools away, a handful of Rockstars Are Dead! affiliates ordered drinks. Nestled in a nearby booth were Murphy and former Photo Atlas drummer/current Red Orange Yellow drummer, Devon Shirley. DJs, rockers and rave monkeys, all gathered together on a weeknight to enjoy and support one another’s art.
I had arrived too late to catch the Swayback jam, but on the Rockbar’s makeshift stage, the Lawrence Arms’ Brendan Kelly – in town with his wife for some family time – sat playing an impromptu set of folky, acoustic jams. Seated on an amp to the side was Adam Tymn, former guitarist for VAUX and current member of Ride the Boogie. Tymn had joined in on keyboards with Murphy and Halborg, but was now quietly enjoying the company of friends.
After Kelly finished his set and the insane DJs of White Girl Lust kicked into gear, I sat at the bar with Tymn and chatted about his latest musical project. He met the other members of Ride the Boogie (as in Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You” lyric) while touring with VAUX many years ago. Billy Peña and Kevin Burwick were playing in ARKHAM, and Glenn Pinson was in Places to Park. The four friends began a transcontinental collaboration that will bear fruit in the form of a full-length release in January, thanks to Longhair Illuminati Recordings.
“During the last half of VAUX,” Tymn explained to me, “this really became my focus.” The music of Ride the Boogie is a radical departure from the VAUX sound. If Primus, Ween and Clutch stepped behind the bar and started mixing Mad Dog, Old Style and mushrooms, the resulting cocktail – to speak synesthetically – might taste the way Ride the Boogie sounds. In other words, it’s some weird shit. But it also sounds like the musicians involved are having a blast, and that’s one of the most appealing things in the world. Tymn, for one, is very happy with it.
As Tymn told me about some of the lessons he learned while riding the VAUX rollercoaster, and rhapsodized about what he loves about his current project, my eyes wandered across the room to Devon Shirley. Not long ago, he – like VAUX – appeared to have everything a young musician could want: a record deal, a very active touring schedule, and an acclaimed album under his belt. But he was deeply dissatisfied. Now, after leaving the Photo Atlas, Shirley is forging a new identity – both as a musician and as a human being – and, though it’s an occasionally painful process, he’s never seemed more content.
There’s a lesson here, I think – even for those of us who will never come close to the clamorous, glamorous life of a rock-n-roll road warrior. The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” T.S. Eliot said it more concisely: “The end is where we start from.”
Like Tymn and Shirley, we’re all former members of something and current members of something entirely different. Our stories didn’t end with breakups and deaths; that’s simply where our new stories began. The film isn’t over when the cowboy rides off into the sunset; a whole new film starts on the other side of the horizon. Sure, it’s a tired, old cliché, and it might even reek a bit of Family-Circus-look-on-the-bright-side philosophy, but it’s also a simple and undeniable fact.
At every ending, we have the opportunity to reassess, regroup and recharge before we restart, and so it is at the end of the year. The final chords and cymbal sizzles of 2007 will soon fade irrevocably into memory. This is the end, beautiful friend.
Let’s start here. -- Eryc Eyl