thirty.

I don’t know why, but I really had a problem turning 30, which happened in September of 1999.

Leading up to it, I just felt old.  It was depressing.  I was leaving my 20s behind.

By this point I had an excellent job and had mostly shed the skittish, insecure lack of confidence that Fred had instilled in me and become more of a manager, more of a professional.  I was still getting my indie rock fix by writing my Quiet Corner column for Jersey Beat, and each issue of Magnet still had at least one person or band that I personally knew, and since those two things were the barometer by which I measured my waning coolness, I was still okay.

Just the same, 30 felt like a milestone, and an unhappy one.

At some point, Sandy asked me what I’d like to do for my birthday, and I really, honestly didn’t want to do anything.

I was a middle manager, and so I suggested that we go out and eat at a middle manager restaurant – the Olive Garden in Livingston (or maybe it was Florham Park) near my office.  It was a place where I could get a heaping bowl of pasta and some breadsticks, without spending shitloads of money.

So Sandy got a babysitter, and the two of us drove to the Olive Garden.

And when we got there, Sandy had done an awesome, awesome thing for my birthday.  A little surprise party at the Olive Garden.  Rich and Lissette were there.  Ralph from Footstone was there.  I believe Mark was there, too, as were a few others.  I hadn’t seen them in ages, and they were so nonchalant about being there that I almost burst into tears when I saw them.

We ate, and we drank, and we caught up.  It had been three years since Dromedary closed, but Footstone had soldiered on, playing clubs and building their reputation as the granddaddies of the New Jersey indie scene.  A whole new crop of bands had blossomed around them – bands like Aviso’ Hara, The Milwaukees, bobfields, and Boss Jim Gettys.

I didn’t know that Eric had left the band.  Nobody had told me that until just a month or two ago, but Eric had moved down the shore, to Cape May, and simply didn’t have the ability to be in the band anymore.  So Footstone was a three-piece, with Ralph on guitar and vocals, Bishop on bass, and Dave on drums.  I’m not sure that Eric officially ever left the band or not – I was completely disengaged at this point.

But every time I saw the Footstone guys, I felt like rock and roll, and we stayed at the Olive Garden talking about the scene, talking about punk, talking about Dromedary.  It felt great.  After a three-year hiatus, when suddenly I was beginning to feel age creep in, I admitted it.

I missed it.

Terribly.

After the Olive Garden, Ralph let us know that the restaurant was awfully close to the house where he grew up, so he invited us back.  His parents were out of town, so we sat in his living room and drank his parents’ beer and continued to talk, and it felt so good.

What a cool thing Sandy did for me on my 30th birthday.  I got to catch up with Footstone, learn what they were up to, and Ralph talked to me as if I had never left.  I sat there and listened to him, and ever so slowly realized that indie rock was part of what I loved, and that my “hiatus” didn’t need to be an end.

We got to talking about some of the bands that we had worked with.

In 1997, The Mommyheads released a self-titled CD on Geffen Records.  It was the CD that they were working on when we folded up Dromedary, the one that Adam had told me about the night I wanted to ask them to do the followup to Bingham’s Hole on Dromedary.  I never got the chance to ask him that, because he excitedly told me they’d signed the Geffen deal, and were going into the studio with Don Was.

So I held my tongue, and I congratulated him, and tried my best to sell out of Flying Suit and hope that there would be something cool in store for us as a result of the Geffen deal.

The record came out on Geffen, and although it was very strong and sounded great, it had departed a bit from the jammy, boogie-oriented direction in which they had been moving, and went in more of a light pop direction, definitely an “AAA” (album adult alternative) record.  Still, it was very good – I bought it the day it came out –  and I was surprised to hear that it hadn’t done well in terms of sales or charts.

Eventually I heard that the band had broken up.  Adam and Michael were working on solo records and Jeff had joined Sunny Day Real Estate, and that was it for The Mommyheads; yet one more example of a promising band that had joined the record industry and gotten the short end of the stick.  In this case, though, it was more than just a “promising band” that had gotten eaten up by the machine, it was one of the best, most intelligent bands around, a bunch of nice guys who made amazing music that was embraced by fans around the country.

It broke my heart to hear it, and yet there was nothing I could do about it.  I didn’t even know how to find the guys anymore.

I told this story to Ralph in his parents’ living room, and he didn’t seem surprised; by 1999 we’d both heard the story so many times that we were numb to it.  Instead of mourning the passing of another great band – a Dromedary band – we were catching up, talking about what new bands we were listening to.  The Get Up Kids.  Hot Rod Circuit.  Ultimate Fakebook.  Doctor Bison.  Jimmy Eat World. We traded names back and forth for a few hours, and then Sandy and I headed for the car and went home, the best birthday party I’d ever had.

It wasn’t until two or three days later that I came to the realization that Footstone was the only Dromedary band left.

cuppa joe had, evidently, called it quits after the members of the band had moved on.  They never stopped being friends or playing together, but after recording another batch of songs, it seemed like they’d simply ceased being a band.

Toast had disappeared, its members moving onto other projects.  Gapeseed had, too, releasing a record called Project 64 on Silver Girl first – but then I had discovered Mike at the helm of some internet company, and Pete eventually joined a great, great band called Poem Rocket.

Dots Will Echo were still performing, mostly just as Nick with his guitar, keeping the band’s name alive.  Blenderette had broken up.  So had Shirk Circus.  Every band that had been affiliated with Dromedary in one way or another had gone the same way Dromedary had.

Every band except Footstone.  The band that had gotten together as a bunch of high school students playing REM covers, recorded two demo tapes under the name Stickman, and sent me a demo tape with a press kit that compared themselves to Kenny Loggins and Aerosmith.  The band that released our first seven-inch and our last CD, recorded two more sets of songs that were never released, and had evolved to the point where they were considered the old school indie band in the New Jersey scene.

All the bands we worked with or knew over the years, Footstone lasted the longest.  And before I left, Ralph told me that they were recording again, and that the new songs sounded fantastic.

~ by Al on December 1, 2009.

One Response to “thirty.”

  1. A Dromedary Band Deadpool would have been a fun activity to keep track of the bands’ passings. And maybe make a little money wagering, too.

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