live from sandy’s birthday.

Stuyvesant

Almost as quickly as I decided I would start the blog, I began thinking of how I would end it.

On one hand, it could have ended with the day I drove back from Cape Cod and decided I was putting Dromedary on hiatus, and screwed Jenifer Convertible and Footstone in the process.  That would have been a fitting end.  But it also wouldn’t have been accurate – Rich, Ralph, and I worked hard on Razortone and had worked up a long list of bands to work with.

It could also have ended when Rich died.

The problem with that is that it was all so abrupt.  At the risk of cheapening a monstrously huge, tragic, life-changing event by comparing it with a baseball game, the way it happened was very similar to the way the Yankees lost the playoff series against Seattle in 1995.  They were winning.  They were there.  We were on the edge of our seats, ready to celebrate, clenching our fists and ready to move onto the next round.  And then a quick hit, and another, and boom: series over.

Rich died that way, celebrating a clean bill of health in August and then passing away just five months later.  We didn’t even get to enjoy the year and a few months that the doctors expected in a worst-case scenario – it was just a couple of weeks after we learned of that harsh reality that we each held his hand on his last night.

We never got a chance to really even say goodbye to Dromedary, the way we said goodbye to Rich.  And while I fucked up the goodbye to Rich, this blog was going to give me the opportunity to properly close up Dromedary.  To reconnect with our bands in a more proper way and let them know how important they were to us.

To explain.

Dromedary Records was a small company.  Eight records, a few dozen shows, big plans that didn’t materialize.  In the scope of the indie rock world, it was just a blip, an insignificant company that barely made a mark and was utterly forgotten almost as fast as it left.

But on another level, Dromedary Records was so fucking important.  It created friendships and memories that have lasted for over a decade.  It documented the music of eleven bands, each of which, at some point, was somebody’s favorite band.  It sponsored dozens of shows, and had plans to work with two dozen more bands with various projects on which we were working when we shut down. Somewhere in the world is a person who listens to nurture, and it brings them to another place.  A person who listens to Flying Suit and recalls personal memories that will last forever.  Thirty or forty musicians got to say “I put out a record,” and we got to be involved in indie rock for a while.  Taking a line from the movie I can’t remember, but have quoted elsewhere in this blog, we created something and put it out there.

It took me fifteen years to understand what Steve Albini told me.

You can release a record that sells a hundred copies, and it’s still a success.

After just a couple of weeks of starting the blog, I had figured out exactly how I was going to end it.

This blog has gone on and on, singing the praises of all the people who were a part of this except for the most important one: Sandy.  She’s my wife, my best friend, and the person I respect the most on earth.

We’ve been together since I was just 17 years old, a skinny college freshman.  When I met her I weighed 180 lbs soaking wet at six-foot-three, just getting over pneumonia and still unable to even laugh without coughing up my innards.  She was with me through my hippie phase, my thrash metal phase, my funk-o-metal phase, my punk phase, my indie phase, my jazz phase, and my cheesy commercial alt-rock phase.  We grew up together, built careers together, started lives together.

She is my soul mate, in the way that most people, when they’re being honest with themselves, can’t really say they have one.  I shudder when I think of what my life would have been like if she didn’t find something attractive about me back in the summer of 1987 when we first met.  But at my second job, in a conversation I was having with two older women in the office, one of them said something that has resonated with me for more than a decade.

She said “Nobody loves their wife like Al loves his wife.”

That couldn’t be more true.

Back in 1994, I had planned a surprise birthday party for Sandy.  Footstone was going to play it, at Love Sexy.  We were going to record their set, and release a live album called Footstone Live From Sandy’s Birthday. It was the best birthday gift I could think of, but then a snowstorm messed it all up, stranding me in Texas and closing Love Sexy for the night.

I had no backup plan, so Sandy never got a birthday present that year.

I decided I was going to ask Stuyvesant to play a surprise birthday party for Sandy’s 40th, which was in February of 2009. And that was how the blog was going to end.  It was the perfect way of circling back, of closing up the loose ends that never got tied in the story – I’d finally have the party, we’d do one last show, everyone would hug and move on.

And once again, as he has done every single time I’ve ever asked him to do anything like this, Ralph said “yes.”  In a heartbeat.  Fifteen years after he was doing it with Footstone, here in 2009, where there was absolutely nothing in it for him.

That’s Ralph Malanga.  He’ll always be one of the best friends I’ll ever have.  We don’t see each other much, and up until recently we didn’t even exchange emails all that often.  But he’s a guy who will go to the ends of the earth for his friends.  I am so incredibly fortunate to be his friend.

Ralph agreed to play a show, all the way out here in the middle of nowhere, in a hayseed, redneck bar in front of a bunch of 40-somethings.  For free.

Sean couldn’t make the show, so Ralph asked Eric Greenberg, the former guitar player in Footstone, to fill in for Sean.  Eric sat in his living room for a week, with the Stuyvesant records and his guitar, and learned the songs so he could fill in.  Then he drove all the way up from Cape May to play with a band he’d never played with before, for free.  And Ralph drove up from Trenton, and Brian and Joel drove out from Jersey City.  That’s the kind of things that friends do for one another, and fifteen years later, we were still friends.

I took Sandy out to dinner with a few of our local friends.  It was a nice night.  Then, we all agreed to go out for a nightcap, and had a “disagreement” over where to go.  I finally said “Okay, then, whatever – we’ll just follow you; go where you want.”  And as I grumbled in our car about their shitty choice in bars, our friends drove to the place where the party was planned.  We walked in and 40 or 50 of our friends yelled “Surprise!”

Sandy was blown away.  And when Stuyvesant showed up and played, she was even more blown away.  They played most of our favorites, and, true to form with Ralph, an impromptu cover of Journey’s “Stone In Love” that got people crazy.  As usual, they were fantastic, even in the worst circumstances, and the crummiest bar, in front of people who mostly didn’t know them.  They closed with Cheap Trick’s “Goodnight Now,” an awesome nod to the Cheap Trick tribute that Footstone was going to play on, back when I so desperately wanted to hear them play “He’s A Whore.”

After their set, we sat at the bar and talked about old times, and about how great the band sounded.

Remember, this was February of 2009.  About a month into my writing this blog.

Sandy asked Ralph “Have you read Al’s blog?”

“Holy cow,” Ralph said, “I’m addicted to it.”

“Me too,” added Eric, “I can’t get enough of it.”

“I don’t know how you remember all that stuff,” Ralph said.  “I don’t remember half the shit you’re writing about.”

Then, we started talking about how I was going to handle some of the bad stuff that happened during Dromedary.  Relationships with bands that ended poorly.  My frustration with distribution.  The closing of the label, and screwing of two bands.  Rich’s death.

“It’s going to be a catharsis for him to write about Rich,” Ralph told Sandy.

He was right.  I said goodbye the right way.

After the show, Rico, Ralph, and Brian joined us back at a friend’s house, where we hung out in the kitchen, enjoyed a few more beers, and caught up with each other again.  In the wee hours of the morning, Brian finally said “Okay, we’ve got to go.”

When they were pulling out of the driveway, I had that same feeling that I had way back on that afternoon in 1992, when Mark and Ralph came over to our apartment in Lodi.  It was the first time we’d met, and we spent the afternoon drinking the case of Lowenbrau that they’d brought – and when they left, I didn’t want them to go.  I didn’t want the day to end.

I felt the same way the night of Sandy’s party in 2009.  I didn’t want it to end.

Just the same, I finally got to have a surprise party for Sandy, and  from the standpoint of drama and poetry and all that, it was the perfect way to end the story.

But then Sandy went and fucked up my ending.

~ by Al on December 24, 2009.

4 Responses to “live from sandy’s birthday.”

  1. It was a FABULOUS party. I love you, too.

  2. “High Fidelity” is the movie. You’re welcome.

  3. I THOUGHT it was “High Fidelity,” (I actually refer to that line a few different times in this blog), but I actually read through the script and couldn’t find the line anywhere.

    Can you quote the line?

  4. The girlfriend with the complicated name (lotta consonants, few vowels) says it to John Cusack when he decides he’s going to put out the album of the skate rat kids outside his store (in the oh-so-trendy Chicago neighborhood, by the way).

    I can’t find the specific line in any of my usual “go-to” websites but when I get home tonight I will throw the movie in and fast-forward to the scene and make sure I’m remembering the line correctly. I would hate to mis-quote the writing genius of John Cusack…

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