The most momentous news seems to find you in the most banal ways: glancing at a TV in a sports bar, the ticker in Times Square, a late night text message. I woke up this morning from a dream that I was fighting in a war, turned on my phone, and read on Facebook that my friend Adam Fisher was dead.
I met Adam when I took a job as Night Manager at Knitting Factory in 2004, when it was still on Leonard Street in Manhattan. It was not a great time for me. I’d just moved back to NYC from a year of living out of my van on the road and a long relationship was falling apart. I was angry and confused and solidly depressed.
When Shay, the General Manager, was training me, he introduced me to Adam. I took one look at him– long shaggy hair, cut-offs, band T-shirt, challenging stare– and made a note to myself: this one is going to be trouble. And I was right. Adam was even more hardheaded than I was and we clashed early and often.
One night, we were all drinking in the Tap Bar after a hard night and Adam looked at me and said “You think you’re such a badass.”
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re bigger than me but I’m pretty sure I can take you.”
“No,” I said.
So we wrestled. I was six inches taller, maybe fifty pounds heavier. I won. And then I won again. And then I won again. And then I won again.
We returned to our drinks and just looked at each other. I realized that, if I ever had to really fight Adam, that I would win. And I realized that fighting Adam would totally suck because he would come at me fearlessly, with everything that he had and that he would never, ever give up. It would be a long, shitty fight and it would hurt because it would take me for-fucking-ever to get Adam to stay down. Finally, I realized that we were now friends.
Adam was a fantastic sound engineer to have working for you. Steve, the production manager, would occasionally give me a heads up on a show. One night, we had six hardcore bands booked in the Tap Bar. When I raised an eyebrow, he said “I booked Fisher for it, so you should be alright.” And Steve was right. That night, I asked Adam if he wanted me to stick a security guard down there with him.
“Nope. No way, dude. I got it.”
And he did. I hung out down there and watched him watch the crowd. There was a mosh pit in front of his sound desk (which was just on wheels in the Tap Bar, not attached to anything) and when some guy lost his footing and tumbled toward the mixer, Adam swung around and kicked the guy neatly in the back, saving both his mixer and the guy (who would have been hurt much more had he hit the desk). Later, when I was talking to some clown and telling him to settle down, I saw Adam watching us the same way he had been watching the crowd. Had the guy thrown a punch, Adam would have been on his back like a spider monkey.
Adam was a committed student of the science of sound… but there are lots of guys like that in New York, continually tweaking the compression, scooping some frequency, eternally hovering over the mixing board like the band is suffering some musical illness only they can cure. Adam made bands sound juicy, punchy, and aggressive– I mean this is rock and roll we’re talking about, is it not?– and then he made it LOUD, buffeting your body with sound, the vibrations caressing you with a sometimes uncomfortable level of intimacy. It wasn’t an accident that his email was “healing by amplitude.”
But that’s not where the job stopped for him. Time after time, I’d ask him if he wanted help running his nights. He had five Latin percussion ensembles and there was an early curfew of midnight– didn’t he want me to come down and be ‘bad cop’ so his job would be easier?
“Dude, I got it,” was always his answer.
And he did. He had the bands wrap up at 11:59 and then they came down to get paid, talking about how much they loved him and how great he was. Adam walked in behind them, rolled his eyes, threw his hands in the air and then went and flopped down on the couch in the other room. All class, that guy.
We had a lot in common: both acerbic, bitter guys; smartasses; thwarted musicians; drinkers. Everyone at the Knit treated him differently than they treated me, though, and it took me a while to figure out why. A crucial difference between us was that I was so transfixed by my own failures that I had a difficult time connecting with people beyond a cursory manner. I couldn’t see past my own bullshit. Adam actually cared, Adam cared very deeply about his friends, was sensitive enough that he could tell when they were upset, and he would corner them and make them tell him what was bothering them. And if he ever had a problem, well, he wouldn’t burden you with it. I treated him like a little brother sometimes, and he was like a little brother, but the little brother who might end up carrying you home at the end of the night.
After I left Knitting Factory, we ran into each other at different clubs around town, then different clubs around the country. He was always the same: cut-offs, band shirt, in dire need of a hair cut, and man, that beard… it was like a herd of porcupines crawling through a briar patch wrapped in razor wire in the middle of the Black Forest. I marveled at how he ever got food into his mouth through that dense whisker shield. He’d call you out on the street: “YOOOOOOOOOO!” And then a huge, full-body, unrestrained hug. He used to lift me off the ground just to fuck with me.
We’d sit down at the bar together or the table or hell, once even just a curb in Austin. How do you catch up with someone you haven’t seen in six months when you’ve both been all over the country or the world and through all kinds of hell? He’d ask me what I’d been up to and I’d offer some bland platitude:
“Well, you know… I put pants on this morning and–”
Adam would look at me sideways. “Dude, that is such bullshit, and you know it!”
Adam Fisher was unable to be anything other than 100% himself, 100% of the time.
One time I was selling a 70’s Gibson Grabber on Craig’s List. The band Fucked Up was in town and the bass player, Sandy, wanted to buy the bass. At the last second, she said she was going to have to bail– it was going to be too tough to make it over before the show. Half an hour later, Adam texted me. He was doing sound for Fucked Up at Warsaw, Sandy had told him about the bass, he told her she had to buy it and they were in a car on the way over.
She played it for a minute and then looked at him.
“Sandy,” Adam said, and he said her name like they’d been friends for twenty years, “It’s a rad bass. Just buy it.”
‘Friend’ is a trite word to use to describe the way I felt about Adam. When you’re a penniless young drunk in New York City and all your family lives far away, and you’re not talking to them anyway, or they’re not talking to you, or nobody is talking to anybody, well, you make your friends your family. Adam was part of that family. I liked Adam, I loved Adam, I thought he was funny, I thought he was a dick, he annoyed the fucking shit out of me but most importantly, I trusted Adam. I would have trusted him with my life. We understood each other. Or he understood me, and I thought I understood him.
Losing him so suddenly, so abruptly, so unexpectedly is heartbreaking. I really thought that he’d be telling me I was full of shit for the next 30 years. Our friend Bill Stites put it best: “Adam, you would totally make fun of me if you saw how hard I’m crying right now.” But losing him means that, for the first time in the entire life of our friendship, I can say something to Adam without him interjecting or cutting me off or immediately rejecting everything I’ve just said as total horseshit. So here goes.
Adam. It’s not just that I liked you or we all liked you. I loved you and we all loved you, not because you drank with us and worked too hard for too little appreciation or knew too much about Nick Cave but because you were loyal and true and just a 100% solid gold motherfucker.