live, from my birthday.

On the morning of September 5, 2009, I was really hard to wake up.

It was  the day we were celebrating my 40th birthday, and we had dropped the kids off at my mother’s house the night before, in anticipation of our annual Labor Day party.  I had felt pretty strongly that since it was a milestone birthday, we were going to be doing a bunch of partying, and I’d rather not have my kids around to witness that.

Tucker flew in from Chicago a day early, as he often does for our Labor Day parties, and the two of us stayed up late the night before, drinking and talking.  I knew the party was doubling as my 40th birthday, but aside from knowing that we were having a party, and knowing a few of the people who were coming, Sandy kept me in the dark on the rest.  She told me that even though I knew the party was happening, there would still be a few “surprises.”

I had no idea the degree to which I would be surprised.

In my enthusiasm and excitement, Tuck and I wound up staying awake until 4AM, having a few too many, and so when Sandy shook me awake at 8:30, it took me a while to shake out the cobwebs.

“I need your help getting ready today.  Come on,” she said.

She needed my help getting ready, I thought. It’s my fucking 40th birthday.  Can’t I sleep in?  Just a little?

“Let’s go,” she said.  “Wake up.  We need to pick up the beer, and get the yard ready.  The pool needs to be cleaned.  You need to get a bonfire ready.  People are going to start arriving at 4:00.”

“What time is it now?” I groaned.

“8:30,” she replied.

“What?!” I croaked.  “It’s 8:30!  We’ve got, like, the whole day!”

And with that, I finally opened my eyes.  And as I argued with her about letting me sleep, I realized something:  Sandy was wearing a Footstone t-shirt.

And it was a Footstone t-shirt I’d never seen before.

What is she wearing? I thought, as the cobwebs started to clear out a bit.  And then I noticed there was a date on the shirt.  September 5, 2009.

Today.

And then I read the words “The greatest indie rock reunion of all time.”

My mind closed off to whatever Sandy was saying, as I tried to process what I was reading on the shirt.  Footstone.  The greatest indie rock reunion of all time.

Reunion.

The entire shirt read:

Footstone

Back together for one night

…and many boh

The greatest indie rock reunion show of all time

September 5, 2009

lovingly brought to you by Dromedary Records.

As I digested this, I realized that Sandy was beaming.

“Umm,” I stammered, “what the fuck is going on?  Is Footstone playing a show tonight?”

“Right here at our house,” she said.

NO,” I yelped.  “No way.  How could that be?  Ralph just had a baby.  When the hell did he find the time to put this together?”

“He jumped at the chance.”

My mind was racing.  Footstone had broken up under shitty circumstances; a fight between members of the band that – thanks to the beauty of Facebook – was just beginning to heal.  And the band members were scattered all over the place.  “Mark lives in Minnesota,” I said, trying to think of a reason why the thing I was hearing was impossible.

“He’s been here since yesterday.  Like, the day after I asked him, he had bought his plane tickets.”

“Dave and Ralph?  They’re getting along well enough to do this?”

“They both agreed to do it, instantly.”

“And Rico too?  He’s coming up from Cape May again?”  Rico had come up and played in Sean’s place at the Stuyvesant show for Sandy’s birthday.  I figured that once he realized how long he had to drive to get to us, we’d never see him again.

“Yep.”

I jumped out of bed.  “Where are they going to play?  Where will they set up?”

“That’s why I need your help.  I don’t know where they should set up.  I don’t know how to set up a band, or I’d be letting you sleep.”

Holy shit, I thought.  Footstone.  Footstone is getting back together.

The first thing I thought to do was hug Sandy.  The next thing I thought to do was post it on Facebook.  What an amazing thing she’d pulled off.  Amazing.

I spent the rest of the day on Cloud 9.  Footstone was finally going to play.  At my house.  Their first show together in ten years.  My favorite band was playing at my birthday party.

They had scheduled four farewell shows back in 1999, and they never got to play any of them.  They never played a “final” show.

We got the house ready, cleaned up the yard, and all I could think about was one thing.  Footstone.

“How the hell did you pull this off?” I must have asked Sandy a hundred times.

“I asked them once, and they ran with it,” she replied.  A hundred times.  “They wanted to do it.”

I had asked a few of our best friends from town to come over at 4:00, an hour early.  And at 4:00, I sat on my deck and opened a beer, and looked around me.

There was Sandy, my very best friend and soul mate.  Walt, my college roommate, who had been one of my closest friends for 20 years. Tucker, my other college house-mate, one of my favorite people ever, and one of the best friends I’ll ever have.  Chris and Lori, a couple from town that have become Sandy’s and my closest friends.  Rob and Suzanne, two more very close friends with whom we did everything together.  Sandy’s best friend Michele, and her husband Bob – who I play basketball with every week.

I was kicking off the day surrounded by the people I loved the most.  And I was going to end the day with my favorite band.

I kept having this recurring memory of when I was a little kid, seven or eight years old.  I was a huge Kiss fan.  At that age, I asked my father if he’d ever let me see a Kiss concert, and he said “Not even if they were playing in our backyard.”  And from that point on, I had fantasies of Kiss – my favorite band – playing a concert in my backyard.

Now my favorite band was going to play a concert in my backyard.

Here’s what was cool.  Sandy asked each of the attendees to give her the name of a song that reminded them of me.  Then, she made a playlist of all the songs, and began playing them when the guests showed up.  My job was to figure out who chose which songs.  And based on the length of time I’d known the people, the songs were a cross-section of music from my entire life.  ’80s metal.  ’90s indie rock.  ’70s punk.  Everything.  And it was very cool to know that all these people had a song that made them think of me.  What a cool thing, for somebody who’s into music.

When the Footstone guys showed up, I was beside myself.  They also brought along Dave – Mark’s brother, who I hadn’t seen in probably 12 years.  It was great to see him.  “Wait ’til you hear how they sound,” he said, with a huge smile.

As the band began setting up, the sun was setting, and I simply could not wait.  I was going to see Footstone.  I sat there, staring, waiting for them to be ready.  Get ready, dammit! I thought.

And then Sandy called me over to the backyard, where she had set up a video projector, and a sheet on the back of my house.

I figured she was going to show some hokey video with embarrassing old pictures of me, with my mullet or my stupid 1980s clothes or something.  I figured I’d have to suffer through some embarrassment to see Footstone.

I was wrong.

“Steve Spatucci sends his birthday wishes,” she began, “and apologizes that he couldn’t make it.”  Steve was the drummer in cuppa joe.  He and I had connected over Facebook about two months prior, and he and Doug had begun reading the blog, catching up on the story.  Turns out that Steve was never really that pissed off about the delay in getting him back his artwork and, like many other things over the years, I’d sorta built that up in my mind as a reason why Steve didn’t like me.

“That’s nice,” I said.  “It would have been great to see him.”

“Yeah, well, he sent something for you,” she said.  “I told him it was your 40th, and he told Doug.  And they sent this video, completely on their own.  They came up with the idea, and did this for your birthday, as a gift.”

“Did what?” I asked.

And with that, Doug and Steve were projected onto the screen on the side of my house.

“Did this,” Sandy said. “They wrote you a song.”

“Happy birthday, Al!” Doug said, on the video.

And with that, cuppa joe were back in my life, singing a song that Doug Larkin wrote just for me.  And the lyrics were typical Science Geek lyrics, exactly like you’d expect Doug to write.  The name of the song was “Forty (Hey Al)”, and the lyrics went like this:

Hey Al

It’d be speeding in a school zone

Hey Al

Lower parts per billion ozone

Hey Al

Halfway to eighty

And fifteen more than twenty-five

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Hey Al

A little slower than a single’s played

Al

It’d be a hot day if it’s Centigrade

Al

Two-thirds of sixty and

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Fifteen more than twenty-five

It’s the pulse of a mellow ticker

Ounces in a malt liquor

28 in hexidecimal

Romans just expressed it XL

Nights that Noah stayed up lage

Calcium’s atomic weight

My computer just calls it 101000

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Hey Al

Countdown on the pop charts

Al

Varieties of Pop Tarts

Al

Four-fifths of fifty and

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Fifteen more than twenty-five

Hey Al

During the video, they included segments of all their kids (and a clip of Brother Rick, playing the guitar).  I had never seen their kids – didn’t even know they had any until just a few weeks prior.  I was fascinated by this awesome introduction they were making to their families.  The kids were beautiful.

And it struck me that I hadn’t seen cuppa joe since I was twenty-five.  Fifteen years prior.  Fifteen more than twenty-five.

After the song was over, they cracked a couple of jokes about entries right here in this blog – the one where Doug asked me for gas money for cuppa joe to play their record release party, and the one where we silkscreened their CDs so poorly.

Here’s the video, and the song.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Almost immediately after the video was over, almost before I could collect myself, Footstone launched into “Laughter In Your Coffee.”

And then they played a setlist that represented a complete cross-section of their history as a band.  They played a few tracks from Lippy (“Watermelon,” “Superworld,” “Toothpick,” “I’ll Get Over It.”).  They played “Airbag,” the 1993 song that Ray had created 16 different mixes of, that we still couldn’t find one we liked.  They played songs from Schmeckle City Rubdown, the record we never put out.  They played songs like “Frothy” and “Brian’s Poop Hole,” from the ill-fated 1999 recordings that never got released, because the band broke up.

True to Footstone’s reputation, they squeezed in a cover – “Breed” by Nirvana, another nod to the mid 90s.  And, true to form, they were engaging and funny, reaching out to people in the audience and making self-deprecating jokes about how bad they sounded.  Except it wasn’t true.  They sounded great.  And when Dave Abney let me know that they had rehearsed for a total of an hour and a half – and hour and a half after a ten year layoff – they sounded even better.

They were fantastic.  Sure, there were flubs, but they sounded fantastic.  As a band, they hadn’t played together for a decade – even more, in Rico’s case – and then they rehearsed for an hour and a half.  They were amazingly tight.  They were as good as most bands on most nights, and they hadn’t seen each other in years.

Since I knew they were playing, I set up the video camera in the yard, and asked my buddy Matt, who delivered the eulogy at Rich’s wake, if he would take care of manning it. He did a bang-up job, as he’s a professional TV guy (and communications professor). Thus, here’s “Frothy,” one of the songs that Footstone recorded as a trio in 1999, as part of the Moebius Sessions, long after I was out of the picture. It’s brilliant.

Of course it wasn’t enough to have Doug Larkin and Steve Spatucci write and record a song for me after fifteen years.  It wasn’t enough to have Footstone get back together, its members coming together from all over and rehearsing for the first time in a decade.  That wasn’t enough mind blowing for one night.  Footstone had to take it one step further.

They had to close their set with “He’s A Whore.”

“He’s A Whore” was the song I so desperately wanted Footstone to cover.  I was going to put out a Cheap Trick tribute album, and I thought that “He’s A Whore” was tailor made for Footstone to play.  For an entire year I wanted to hear Footstone play it, and my hopes crashed and burned when Jeremy from Blenderette told me about another Cheap Trick tribute that another label was doing.  My hopes were dashed, and I came to the realization that I’d never hear Footstone play “He’s A Whore.”

The guys in Footstone learned about my disappointment over this by reading about it on my blog – on this very blog – and decided to learn the song, just for me, so that they could play it on my birthday.  As if the show itself wasn’t a surprise enough.

Here it is.  If you listen hard enough, when Dave begins the song’s signature drum intro, you can hear me screaming “NO WAY!”

I spent the rest of the night guzzling beer, and talking to people I hadn’t seen in ages, alongside people I’d just seen just the day before.  All my closest friends, and some of my distant ones as well.  And just the way I’d like it, the night ended with me and Footstone, sitting outside on my deck, talking about music.  Talking about Dromedary Records.

It was the most incredible night I could possibly have had.  What great friends I have.  What an incredible soul mate I’m married to.  I will never forget it, as long as I live.

And as I was sitting there, I realized:

Dromedary Records was a really important thing.  It was important because it was a lot of fun.  And because we released great music.  And because it created some great friendships.  The kind of friendships where a guy would fly out from Minnesota to play a show for free.  Or where two guys would put aside their differences and get back together, for one night.  Or where a guitar player would learn another band’s songs, and drive all the way up from Cape May to play them in a hayseed dive bar.  Or where two guys who hadn’t seen you in fifteen years would write you a song, record it, and send it to your wife so she could play it at your party.

Eric and I were alone on the deck at one point, and he said to me “We’re going to play a proper reunion, you know.  The rehearsals were so much fun that we decided it was time to do a real one.  At Maxwell’s.”

I beamed.

I wanted to end the blog with the story of Sandy’s birthday party.  She had other plans.  She created a night that would end the first part of the blog, and simultaneously ensure that the blog would keep going, hopefully for a long time.  She read it for a year, she watched me writing it, and she realized how important it had become to me.

Again.

And so, on September 6, 2009, at 5 in the morning or so, I finally had the perfect story to end the history of Dromedary Records.  All the ups and downs, all the frustrations and trials, all the comedy and tragedy, and Sandy figured out how the story could have a happy ending.

I love a story with a happy ending.

# # #

As far as this story is concerned, this is the end.  But there are two more entries to go; please keep coming back.

~ by Al on December 29, 2009.

One Response to “live, from my birthday.”

  1. […] Fast forward to 2009.  Al and I became friends through a history of baseball and its memorabilia, but now we are just really good friends.  One thing I’ve learned about Al is that he is married to his soul mate.  Its cliche, but he is.  So last September his wife Sandy threw him a 40th birthday party.  I was lucky enough to be invited.  Lucky because I got to see Al at one of his highest moments of all-time.  You see, Sandy was by Al’s side throughout the history of Dromedary Records.  Al slugged his way through finding talent, recording music, and distributing albums.  One of his bands was Footstone.  So for Al’s 40th birthday, Sandy secretly arranged a Footstone reunion, playing right there in their own backyard.  Footstone hadn’t played together for 10 years.  But for Al, they came together.  But I don’t do it justice. Al tells the story better than I do. […]

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