redesigning the cosmos.

It was 75 degrees on the day of Rich’s funeral.  In January.

Only Rich could have a funeral on a 75 degree day in January.  Snow was melting.  It was a warm, beautiful day, in the middle of the winter.

I wore an Armani suit to Rich’s funeral.  When I met him, I was passed out in my underwear, underneath a glass coffee table.  When he died, I was wearing Armani.  We had come that far together, starting our careers at the same time.  We worked our shitty dayjobs across the street from one another and I started a record company while he started a magazine.  We stayed up all night together, talking half-jokingly about taking over the world, and eventually being satisfied to just have a small piece of it that we could do with what we wanted.

I drove him to and from work every day, and we drank and bowled at Paul’s Bar, listening to Sonic Youth on the jukebox.  We drank two-dollar pitchers at Mario’s and black and tans at Maxwell’s, while we put out eight records and dozens of shows together.  We brainstormed every day for years and came up with lots of ideas – some good, some bad.  At his funeral I decided that Razortone was going to be buried with him – I couldn’t bring myself to do anything music-related without him.

Somewhere along the line, we grew up.  We went from being piss poor kids in their early 20s, naively trying to navigate through life, him living in the filthiest apartment on Earth and us desperately trying to get out of my mother’s house, to being young executives, struggling to cling somehow to some shred of what we had been ten years prior.  To a degree, we’d gotten what we wanted, and now all we wanted was to hang onto a piece of what we’d lost in the process.

On the day he died, Rich Grasso was just 32 years old.

Rad came to the funeral.  Rad has been my friend since high school, always a big music fan, and he finally learned how to play the guitar at some point after college.  He got hooked up with Chris Gibson, a long-time fixture in the Hoboken music scene, and they started a band called High Speed Chase.  High Speed Chase is still together, playing aggressive, hard rock.  Rad hardly knew Rich, and when he walked into the funeral home he gave me the biggest hug and said “I wouldn’t have missed this.”

His coworkers all came together in one group.  Aside from Ben, a former coworker who became a good friend of mine and is still one of my favorite people, I had never met any of them.  The room was filled with pictures of Rich, and Lissette had told me that his coworkers had asked if they could put up a sign that they’d made.  I don’t think she wanted them to – I think she wanted the room to be the way she had envisioned it, I think she wanted to give Rich the sendoff that looked and sounded exactly the way she wanted.

But they put up a sign anyway.  It read something like this:

The employees of <company name> express their sincere condolences over the loss of Rich Grasso.

We wish him a fond farewell, but at the same time we take great comfort in the knowledge that somewhere,

Rich is busy redesigning the cosmos in ways we can’t even imagine.

When I read it, I broke down.  Rad was right there beside me, holding me up.

Brian Eno provided the soundtrack.  Music For Airports, I believe – I chuckled at Rich’s final joke at my expense.  But the music was beautiful and soothing and finally, after years of poking fun at Eno’s music just to get a rise out of Rich, I sat there and listened, and it was wonderful.

Matt delivered the eulogy.  Matt was Rich’s best friend, and Rich was Matt’s, and Matt is an outstanding orator and writer.  He stood there, crumbling inside, but strong as an ox with an unwavering voice, and he delivered the most stirring tribute to Rich that there ever could be.

And then we all went down the street to a diner and grabbed something to eat.

I wrote.  I wrote a eulogy, one that I thought was stirring and emotional and scratched the surface of what Rich was all about; what he meant to so many.  And on Valentine’s Day of 2002, I posted the following to the Indie-NJ mailing list:

It is with unbelievable sadness and emptiness that I announce the
passing of Rich Grasso.

Rich died on January 28 after a fairly long battle with cancer. It
is very fitting that he chose a 75-degree day in the middle of winter
to die; Rich always did things in as unique a way possible.

Rich Grasso was an artist, a musician, a writer, a publisher, a
composer, a web designer, a businessperson, a drinking buddy, and a
big supporter of the local arts scene. Rich was also the best friend
I could ever hope to have.

Rich spent his entire life in the pursuit of learning. He was
entirely self-taught in every aspect of his life. Having not
attended a day of college, Rich was still better educated than anyone
I’ve ever met; his knowledge of politics, music, design, marketing,
business, automobiles, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and
general theory was astounding. The impact he had on those around him
was equally astounding.

In the mid-1980s, Rich taught himself how to play the bass. He was
the most amazing bass player I’ve ever heard. From 1987 or so, right
through the mid-1990s, Rich played in a number of New Jersey alt-rock
bands.

In the mid 1990s, Rich taught himself how to play keyboards, and
began composing and recording incredible soundscapes – part ambient,
part electronica, part alt-rock. His music was a wash of texture,
effects, and ethereal melody. He had a love of older, analog
synths, and he used them to augment his music, adding otherworldly
sounds to his compositions. He considered himself an “audio
artist”. He was fascinated by odd instruments within the framework
of a conventional song structure – the theremin, the mellotron, the
bow saw. Rich told me once that I would never TRULY be a piano
player until I could open one up and play it from the inside by
plucking its strings.

Rich taught himself how to manipulate digital images and produce
color film. He taught himself how to be a graphic designer, with no
formal education or training. His advertising art has graced
billboards in Times Square, Broadway musicals, and staggeringly
effective direct marketing campaigns. His web designs are used by
major global telecommunication companies, publishing empires, and
ecommerce companies.

In the early 1990s, Rich was an integral part of my record label,
dromedary records. He introduced me to Melting Hopefuls, who were
one of the first bands we worked with that helped us learn how to run
a record label, in so many ways. He engineered and mastered our
first compilation album. The beautiful artwork that became our
record covers was manipulated and outputted by Rich. He manned the
printing presses for our posters, and he helped us discover new
bands. He helped us book and promote our monthly local shows, at
Live Tonight, Under Acme, and Lovesexy. He helped create all our
print ads. He designed our logo. Virtually every dromedary band
thought of Rich as a key friend at the label.

Rich also helped us find the bands we loved – those whose music we
released (Melting Hopefuls, cuppa joe, Footstone, the Mommyheads,
Godspeed, Oral Groove), and those who we loved from afar (Friends
Romans Countrymen, Toast, Gapeseed, Ditch Croaker, Kid With Man Head,
Jenifer Convertible).

Rich woke up one morning and decided to publish a zine. He
created “Indier Than Thou!”, which poked fun at indie rock culture
while bringing an element of true investigative journalism to the
zine world. His first issue featured an article about payola in
college radio that ruffled feathers and generated more mail in one
month than dromedary received in six years. After only one
issue, “Indier” was recognized in a CMJ Readers’ Poll as a “Best
Fanzine”. The third issue of “Indier” was a groundbreaking
electronic issue that included graphic, text links, ads, and music
samples, and was distributed on diskette. Thing was, this issue was
published in 1993, before the invention of the World Wide Web. After
that issue, Rich shut down “Indier”, because he was bored with it.
That’s the way he was.

Last year, Rich and I decided to start an internet-only record
label. The business model was unlike anything else out there. Many
of you on the list expressed an interest in becoming involved,
largely because of the unique nature of what we were planning to do.
Much of the idea came from Rich, and we decided to put the idea on
hold while his illness healed. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Rich produced an unbelievable amount of creative, brilliant ideas.
His music and his art were amazing and thought-provoking. His
support of other artists and musicians was invaluable. His
friendship was the kind of friendship that comes along once-in-a-
lifetime. And his passing is a reminder of how fragile life can be,
and how important it is to do everything you can, every single day.

Rich worked behind-the-scenes a lot of the time, so many of you never
met him, or were even aware of who he was. But trust me, his impact
was enormous, his support was relentless, his motivation was
indestructible, and his work helped pave the way for the tremendous
local music scene we have today. I could reel off example after
example of things Rich did to help push local music forward, to
increase its visibility, to increase the viability of the local indie
label, and to promote indie music on the same level as mass-produced
corporate “art”. Many people on this very list owe Rich a debt of
gratitude without even knowing it.

Rich was 32 years old. Cancer is a shitty disease that doesn’t
discriminate based on age, intellect, or what you have left to
accomplish in the world. Many of us will miss Rich’s contributions
without even realizing it. I, for one, am left with a lot of things
to do, and an enormous legacy to help push forward.

In your thoughts, please remember Rich’s wife Lissette, and the
countless friends Rich has left behind.

His colleagues at work put it best: We wish Rich a fond farewell, but
take comfort in the knowledge that right now, Rich is busily
redesigning the cosmos in ways we can’t even imagine.

Although Jim Testa was kind enough to repost the eulogy on the Jersey Beat website, and Lazlo of Blowupradio.com did the same, my e-eulogy received precisely one response.  The post immediately after mine was an ad for a photographer.  The one after that was a question from someone looking for a web host for their band.

The scene just keeps rolling on.

~ by Al on December 14, 2009.

One Response to “redesigning the cosmos.”

  1. I feel the need to relate the story I told after Rich’s funeral after we gathered at his home.

    Rich and I met at an ad agency committed to one principle: hating its owner, whom I shant name. I’ve never seen a human being so capable at uniting people in this way. We succeeded to spite him.

    Anyway, among his most loathsome habits was calling agency meetings long after the point that an agency meeting could solve anything. Rich’s last day happened at one of these meetings.

    This happened after I left, so I’m taking Rich’s word for it. The boss asked everyone to write two sets of things on a piece of paper: 1. what was wrong with the agency and 2. what was right with the agency.

    Then he made the mistake of asking everyone to read his or her paper aloud.

    On the “what’s wrong” round, Rich piped up with “we have no traffic department, no strategic planning, no process for getting work done, no ability to stand up to clients” and a few other things. The boss nodded sagely.

    Then came the “what’s right” round. When it got to Rich, he took a pregnant pause and said “we have a big TV.”

    As Xander Schloss said in “Repo Man,” way to get fired in a big way, Otto.”

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