death train motor man.

Lissette invited me over.  She had some of his stuff, and she wanted to get rid of it.  He hadn’t been gone long at that point, and I would imagine that it must have been painful as hell, just walking into your house and seeing these constant reminders of him everywhere.

I had trouble with that, every time I put in a CD.  Every Dromedary record had something about it that reminded me of him.  Most of the records in my own collection did, too.  It was tough to even listen to music, except for that commercial alternative crap I was listening to so often at that point.

Her first goal was to “de-hospitalize” the apartment – to get rid of all the medical stuff, so the apartment looked more like a home.  Then, her next goal was to get rid of as many reminders as possible.

So I went there, and she had taken a bunch of his stuff out of his office and packed it into plastic tubs.

“These tubs are for you,” she said, pointing to a pile of stuff, “and these are for Matt.  And go through his CDs and see if there’s anything you want, because I’m packing it all away.”

I went through his CDs and pulled out everything that was already mine (Rich had a way of borrowing CDs that eventually became part of his collection).  Then I took a Therapy? CD, a Cocteau Twins CD, and a Dif Juz CD.  Three that would remind me of him.

“What about his musical instruments?” she asked.

“They’re worth money,” I said.  “You could sell them.  Except his bass.  Don’t sell his bass.  He loved that thing, that’s a piece of him.”

“I don’t want them.  But I don’t want to sell them, either.  You guys should have them.”

There was a rehearsal studio in Totowa somewhere.  At one point Rich had decided that he wanted to jam, and so he found this place.  It was in an industrial area, and it was run by a German guy with long, blonde hair.  Rich and Matt called him Rudolf Schenker.  I don’t remember the name of the place, because we all just called it “Rudy Schenker’s place.”

Rudolf Schenker, for those of you who aren’t cool enough to know, was a guitar player in The Scorpions.  This guy wasn’t the real Rudolf Schenker, he was just some random German metal guy.

“Don’t faack up mah ahmps,” he was yelling at us before we’d even plugged anything in.

We played there one day, before September 11, before we all know what was about to happen. There was one point where Rich started playing this bass lick and I worked up this keyboard part.  Matt started playing along on drums, and then Dave just blew in from out of nowhere with a brilliant lick that complimented what Rich was doing – we jammed on these two licks for about twenty minutes and it was just magic.  It was one of those things where you couldn’t duplicate it if you tried – and trust me, we tried.  It was also one of those days where we had a great day, and just a couple days later we were all blindsided with the bad news of 9/11, and then it’s evil twin of Rich’s disease.  We had a similar day like that on New Year’s, when we all had so much fun at our house, and less than a month later, Rich was dead.

Ever since, I’ve lived in fear of that.  Sometimes I’ll be doing something, having a great time, and it will pop into my head that this could be one of those days.  Today could be one of those days when you’re sailing along, enjoying life, and tomorrow morning your whole world could get turned upside down.  You want to remind yourself to enjoy every minute, take advantage of every opportunity, because tomorrow doesn’t come for everyone – and they usually don’t get a warning.  It’s probably not a healthy outlook.

Anyway, Lissette asked me to finish Rich’s music.

“He was working on all this music,” she said, “and he was constantly talking about how you had some contraption on your computer, and you were going to record together.  He was always in that room, working on his music.  He really wanted to record with you.”

I just sort of stared, suddenly feeling this intense pressure to finish.

“I have all his CDs over here.  Take them.  And take all his instruments.”

“I don’t want all his instruments,” I said.

“Take it.  Who else would he have given it to?  He would want you to have it.”

“I won’t take his bass,” I said.  “That should stay with you.  And I’m not taking everything.”

I took his new synth.  I tried to imagine what he would have wanted me to do.  Keyboards and samples.  That’s all I could think of.

She gave his bass to Matt.  I guess she didn’t want it.  Nobody would have treasured that bass more than Matt.  I haven’t been to his house, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was preserved in lucite, hanging on the wall in his office.  Rich meant the whole world to Matt.

I did try, that winter.  I dug through all his music, and pulled out the stuff that I thought was meant for me.  Some of the songs, I recorded directly on to his performances.  Others, I recreated his recordings because there was something wrong with the original – a digital glitch or too much 60-cycle hum, something like that.  I used his drum programs, which were still stored in the memory of his drum machine.  I used samples of passages he’d recorded onto CD.

He had made this beautiful recording on the synth, with a pretty guitar lead – not an instrument he really knew how to play.  It was beautiful, though, but something went wrong with the recording.  The whole thing just abruptly ended.  It was like a metaphor for Rich’s life, this beautiful, creative thing that was meandering along, and then suddenly just ended.

I left that recording alone, and put it on the CD.  This is it.  This is the first time that anyone has ever heard it besides Matt, Dave, or me:

Eventually I wound up with eleven songs.  I called it Death Train Motor Man, and entitled the CD Sure?, after the word that was commonly used by Rich’s Japanese coworkers when they didn’t understand something.

It was mostly crap.  I never played it for anyone except Matt – not even Sandy heard the whole thing.

There was a piano solo called “I Would Drive to Cape Cod a Thousand Times, and Bring Back a Thousand Antique Organs” that was halfway decent.  There was another song where I mashed up the vocals from Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” Curve’s “Horror Head,” and Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” over the chord progression from “Horror Head.”

I called it “Vaginasaurus.”

There was another song called “Priestley On The Mend,” mimicking a CNN headline after actor Jason Priestley was in a car wreck.  There was another called “Big Side Left,” named after the instructions on the toilet paper dispensers in my office bathrooms.

The only song that really had any merit was a mash-up that I did that contained a sample of Sam Woodyard playing the opening of Duke Ellington’s “Three Suites” on drums, a couple of instruments from various world music CDs, and me playing piano, all underneath Wanda Coleman’s reading of her poem Ms. Sambo and the Tigers, from her High Priestess of Word CD.  I digitally edited her reading of the poem so that it fit with the rhythm of the song. I called it “Duck Butter,” after the last two words of Coleman’s reading, which were two words that read in such a way that completely threw off the rest of the poem’s beauty – I tried to ensure my piano playing was just as awkward in that section of the song as her vocal, and I think it worked pretty well.

I never felt like I finished that music.  Eventually I lost interest in trying.  For about two years, I messed around with it, trying to put together something that I felt was reasonably decent enough to give to our friends, but ultimately just couldn’t do anything to make the music consistently good.  None of it had been good enough to do Rich justice.  Eventually, I just decided that the pressure was too much for me to try and “finish” the music of such a genius, and so I decided to just go back to being a worker bee, writing my Jersey Beat column, trying to raise my kids, be a decent dad and husband.

That was a noble enough goal.

~ by Al on December 15, 2009.

One Response to “death train motor man.”

  1. holy fuck. thanks for that beautiful song. rich played that for me when i visited him one saturday; i thought it was lost! i wish i had an entire cd of music that sounded like that…

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