i have missed you guys so much.

The circumstances under which Footstone finally broke up completely sucked.

The guys in the band had been together since they were in high school.  They had practically grown up together, and when you’re that close, a weird bond develops.  It’s not quite family, and it’s not quite friend – it’s somewhere inbetween.  They completed each other’s sentences, they were completely comfortable around each other, they knew everything there was to know about each other.

Eric had gotten married and moved all the way down to South Jersey.  I had become so disengaged with local live music, and Dromedary bands in particular, that I didn’t even realize that Eric had left the band and Footstone had become a three-piece.  I wasn’t aware of this, actually, until the middle of 2009 when I was working through some details of this story and Ralph told me.  The Mike Mobius recording sessions – the ones I posted about a few days ago, that included the song “For The Boss,” were recorded as a three-piece.

So the band was a three-piece, and the bass player was playing in two bands at once.  Really, Footstone ended long before they officially called it quits.  But Footstone was a special thing, and its hard to just let that go.

But somewhere along the line, Ralph and Mark got girlfriends, and Dave got married.  We all sort of evolve.  Then Ralph got married too, and his new wife, Diane, was totally cool and nice and uber-smart – they were destined to get married because they were perfect for one another.  She was a college professor (still is) and got a dynamite job in Houston.  Which meant, of course, that Ralph was moving out of New Jersey.  The official end of Footstone, even though the unofficial end had really happened long before anyone said the words.

It was coming anyway, for sure.  But Ralph’s impending move got everybody motivated to make the best of the last few months.

By 2000 Ralph and I weren’t much more than distant friends; the Punkstuff thing had increased our communication a bit, but I had three kids and a career job, and I lived out in the boondocks, which made it really difficult to get out to see a band or hang out in the city or Hoboken.  So we hung out only occasionally, which put a dent in our friendship.  Same with Bishop.

When it became clear that Ralph was definitely leaving, though, I felt like I had to get involved again.  Footstone had to do some farewell shows, and I wanted to be a part of them somehow.

By then, Footstone was, in my mind, one of the most important bands in the New Jersey music scene.  First of all, they had been around forever, getting their start in the late 80s as a cover band, putting out their first record three or four years later, and consistently gigging straight through 1999 – they’d been together for ten years, and been a part of the live music scene the entire time.

Second of all, they were one of the new bands that had managed to be accepted, and have a home, in all four of the New Jersey/New York music scene hubs.  They gigged regularly down the Jersey Shore, where the area’s stoner-rock bands tended to be more blue collar, sludgy and dirgy, and they fit right in.  They were accepted in New Brunswick, where the bands were more aggressive and loud, flavored with the cynical wit that rubs off on many college-area bands.  They always drew a crowd at their circuit of clubs in the city including CBGB, Under Acme, Continental, Brownie’s and Coney Island High, where the music was more sophisticated and yet simultaneously recalled the stripped down, old-school punk of the late 70s.  And, of course, their hometown – Hoboken and North Jersey, where the music was straight ahead indie rock and pop, brewed in the shadows of the nearby big city.

Footstone had a home in all four places, and in my time being involved in the scene, no other band achieved that quite as well.

Largely due to their longevity, Footstone had achieved a status as sort of the elder statesmen of the scene.  They had a decent-sized fan base, but more importantly (to them, I think), they had fantastic relationships with so many bands in the area.  Fans were nice, but the respect of your peers was even better.

When Footstone played a show, the entire night was part of that show.  They arrived at the club as early as possible, and made it a point to meet every band on the bill.  They were immediately friendly with every band on every night, and they made it a point not only to acknowledge each band but also to stick around for each band’s set.  Footstone’s night didn’t end until the show was over.

On top of that, the band made a point of engaging the crowd at every show.  When you saw Footstone, you weren’t sitting in the crowd, watching some band – you were a part of the show.  You never knew when Ralph was going to just start talking to you from the stage, or when the band was going to get involved with some elaborate in-joke that lasted the entire night, whether it be breaking into an impromptu medley of cover songs, or repeating a joke over and over inbetween songs, or wearing some ridiculous costumes.  Hell, they created an entire band that was an in-joke, the hysterical Wop Taco, which was designed to poke fun at local music journalists and wound up accidentally creating such a buzz that a journalist actually took out classified ads, looking for a way to contact the band so that he could do an interview.

The only thing that had eluded Footstone over the years was national success.  And yet they were a better band than 90% of the popular indie rock bands out there, and a better band than 100% of what was on commercial radio between 1993 and 1999.  Better than all of it.  Period.

To celebrate all this, and see things to a fitting end, Footstone had scheduled a series of farewell shows, in each area where they had become regulars.  If I remember correctly, I believe it was four shows – one at The Fastlane in Asbury Park, another at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, one somewhere in the city (can’t remember where – maybe Continental, maybe Brownie’s).  And last but certainly not least, one final show at Maxwell’s, the greatest club in New Jersey, and the place where we all grew up.

And then Ralph would leave, heading for Texas, and ending the greatest indie band that ever graced New Jersey.

That’s right, that’s what I just wrote.  Greatest indie band that ever graced New Jersey.  Sure, there’s The Feelies, who influenced everyone and who made a huge dent in indie rock in the 1980s that lasts until today.  And of course there’s Yo La Tengo, one of the most popular and lasting indie bands ever, considered by many to be the greatest rock band in the world.  There’s the garage rock of The Original Sins, the tremendously popular pop/punk of Midtown, the lasting, DIY popularity of Ditch Croaker, the wonderful songwriting of Shirk Circus.  There’s the straight-ahead, beer-soaked punk of Flatus and the Wretched Ones, or the old-school punk of The Misfits.  There’s the hardcore-cum-alt rock of American Standard.  More recently there’s the country twang of Roadside Graves, the Springsteen-esque angst of Gaslight Anthem, the indie power of Titus Andronicus.

Jersey has had its share of brilliance, for sure.

But has there ever been a band that combined all of those things?  Has there ever been a band that had such a signature sound, that was so well-recognized, but that had its feet grounded firmly in indie rock, punk, hard rock, power pop, and garage rock, all at the same time? Has there ever been a band with a more solid, talented rhythm section, a louder, more pounding twin guitar sound, or a better singer?  Has there ever been a band that was more loved?

No.  There hasn’t.  Not in New Jersey.

Okay, so maybe “greatest” is hyperbole.  But they were really fucking good, for a really fucking long time, and I love them like brothers.  I ran a record company for a few years, and while I jumped from “flagship” band to “flagship” band, Footstone was there the whole time, playing shows for free, recording music for Dromedary, giving music to Razortone, bringing beers to my house.  When we shut down Dromedary, long after all the Dromedary bands and vendors and friends were distant parts of my life, we stayed friends with the guys in Footstone.

Anyway, the band began rehearsing for their farewell shows, and something happened.  I’m still not sure what it was, but it was some sort of argument, the result of ten years of being family coupled with ten years of familiarity, coupled with a few months of teetering on the edge of breaking up.  Ralph said something shitty, and Dave decided that he’d had enough.

Of course the band couldn’t possibly play with a different drummer.  None of the other three guys would ever even entertain the idea, but even if they had, nobody could do what Dave did.  He was (and still is) a phenomenal drummer, perfect for Footstone.

Ralph was heartbroken.  He told me about it via email, telling me why he was so angry but simultaneously saying that he’d been out of line.  He said that he didn’t think that any amount of begging was going to bring Dave back, bring the band back together.  Not even for four shows.

I tried anyway.  I tried making it about me, saying “I’ve done so much for you guys.  Please, play these shows for me.  Even if you bag all the others, you can’t walk out on Maxwell’s.”

I tried making it this wistful, adult thing.  “Some day you’re going to be old, and you’re going to remember how much Maxwell’s meant, and you’re going to wish you could go back there and play one more time.  And you won’t be able to.”

But it was all just too sore, too emotional, and too tired after ten years.  Suddenly there was pressure to play.  Footstone was never about pressure, it was about fun, beer, loud music, ridiculous in-jokes.  It just wasn’t going to happen.

I honestly don’t remember what it was that caused it, only that it was nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault at the same time.  There was nobody to blame, nobody to be mad at.  It was just a huge disappointment, not just to me but to the band, their fans, and the people who were dying to see those final shows.  Unfortunately, though, the band ran out of gas just before they got to the exit ramp.

And with that, Footstone broke up, with none of the fanfare they had planned, none of the accolades that you’re supposed to get when you thrive in the same scene for a decade, no way for their fans to say good bye, and thanks.  This monstrous band, these guys who wrote “Watermelon” and “Superworld” and “Toothpick” and “US Bebop” and “I Will Not Allow” and “For The Boss” and “Unraveled” and “Frothy” broke up with a petty disagreement that I’m sure nobody can even remember now, but that I knew even then would only cause regret.

And then Ralph moved to Texas and started writing music on his own, Bishop left American Standard and moved to Minneapolis, and Dave played in a couple of local bands before hanging it up.  And Footstone became another band from the past, another group of guys who used to play all the cool clubs but grew up and got jobs and got responsibilities and threw in the towel.

Just like me.

~ by Al on December 4, 2009.

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