Music

more bad news- never touring again

No Comments 27 May 2017

My live record came out on Friday, May 26th. It got as high as #2 on the iTunes comedy charts, which was pretty cool. I have a million people to thank but I’m going to limit it to three people here. Thanks to JT Habersaat for dragging me out of retirement. Thanks to Genevieve Rice for saying “No, you’re a comic” and sticking me in the Bird City Comedy Festival so I had to write jokes. Thanks to Josh McClane, without whom the live record never would have happened.

It was supposed to come out a month earlier but wound up coming out on the 8th anniversary of my sobriety. It was a pretty cool day— the president of Invisible Hands Music picked me up in a tiny plane and flew me from Cardiff to York and we didn’t die (barely). It felt pretty triumphant to be making a living playing music in a foreign country on the anniversary of my death and rebirth. I titled the record Never Touring Again because I’m hilarious and because I’ll always tour, right? Well, not so fast.

I have been feeling like dogshit for a while now. Depressed and worn-down and listless… but not just road-weary. Like there’s something else going on. A couple of times, I’ve been walking down the street and had a sudden flash of vertigo, like my head was a fish tank someone just bumped into. It always resolves pretty quickly but that’s not normal. I turned 40 in February and went out and ran a marathon I wasn’t trained for and gave myself a grueling case of sciatica that made my trip out to Bisbee/ Phoenix for Bird City Comedy an odyssey of pain, exhaustion and Advil. As I’m now officially old and haven’t been to the doctor for a while, I forced myself to go in for routine bloodwork.

I met with my doctor before I left for England. Not great news. I’m pre-diabetic and, as my doctor delicately put it, I have “the testosterone of a 70 year old man.” I knew I was at risk for diabetes as it runs in my family and I just lost my godfather to it, but I had no idea I was barreling straight for it. The testosterone thing, yeah, that kinda blindsided me.

First, yes, bring on the dick jokes, ALL the dick jokes. I’ve found out a lot of things about testosterone in the last month. Turns out testosterone is only part of your sex drive, and your sex drive is only part of what testosterone does. Since, after waning for a couple of years, my sex drive has dropped from “obnoxious” to merely “annoying,” at first I was like fuck it, if it means my gf and I can finally watch a movie all the way through at home, then who cares? But low testosterone increases your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, your memory falters, and your mood tanks. My depression is bad enough without having something else ruining it, and I have too much shit left to do for my head and body to stop working now.

I’m going to fulfill my meager touring obligations for August and September and then I won’t be booking any shows on the road until April or May of 2018. I refuse to go on hormone therapy at 40 (as that means I’ll be on it the rest of my life) and I refuse to just capitulate to diabetes. Instead, I’m going to radically transform my diet, exercise habits, sleep schedule… everything. And I can’t do that when I’m on the road. I’ll be making Atlanta my home come late June/ early July with infrequent trips to NYC and CA to visit friends and family. 

It’s been two years since I’ve had a home of my own. It’s been an amazing experience, I’ve made so many friends and experienced so much kindness. But to keep going at the pace I have been would just be destructive and dumb.

Thanks for supporting live music and comedy and art in a culture that is circling rapidly around the drain. You guys mean more to me than I can say. 

Music

the new old record

No Comments 28 October 2016

Been AWOL from this blog for far too long. Apologies for that, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. Much too much new stuff to report– a record of new material in the works, an upcoming UK tour, another cross country US tour just to start. But I’ll try to limit myself to the subject at hand: the new old record, ALCOHOLICA. There are no plans for physical copies so please pick up a digital copy here:

Amazon

iTunes

bandcamp

CDbaby

In a nutshell, this record was recorded in 2000-2001. When it was finished, I wasn’t totally happy with the songs/ performances/ recordings/ whatever, so I decided to shelve it. That decision may have also been influenced by the death of a friend, burnout, my drinking problem, being broke, etc. Listening back to this record this summer, I decided both that it wasn’t worth re-recording any of these songs for the new record… and that it was worth letting these songs out. Here are the credits.

Mishka Shubaly- vocals, rhythm guitar
Allison Langerak- vocals, Wurlitzer, harmonica
Josh Taggart- rock guitars
Erik Nickerson- weird guitars/ slide guitar on Dollar Beer
Martin Nienstedt- slide guitar on My Love is a Gulag
Jens Carstensen- bass, drums, saxophone
Robin Van Maarth- drums
Ethan Marunas- congas
Karen Paris- violin
James Sparber- Wurlitzer, bass, keys
Ryan Zawel- horns

engineered by James Sparber and Jeff Mensch

mastered by Scott Craggs

cover art by Jed Collins

huge thanks to Jeff, James, Allison and everyone who made this happen, both then and now.

Music, Writing

THE BLOODTHIRSTY ENTHUSIASM OF JOSH MALERMAN

No Comments 15 November 2014

When you look at a map of the United States, highways are just lines. Cities are just points where those lines intersect. We use points and lines to talk about narrative as well—storylines. It’s not a huge cognitive leap to see great American cities like New York or Detroit as collisions of millions of different storylines, pooling together, cross-pollinating, interbreeding, becoming so tangled together that they are impossible to separate.

My story collided with the story of Josh Malerman in a bar in Athens, OH. We were drawn there from different directions by a force—a man named Scott Winland. Scott is of central importance, not just in my story or in Josh’s story, but in many stories. One day, Josh or I or both of us will write him the novel or pop-up book or ponderously long fortune cookie fortune he deserves. But for now, what matters is that Scott brought Josh and I to Athens and, in the Union bar and hundreds of other bars, and in a short school bus and a Toyota minivan, and in the wee hours of the night in the living rooms of folks kind enough to giving touring bands a place to crash, our stories got so smushed together that it’s been impossible to totally separate them. Seriously, put a big hunk of chocolate and a heaping handful of Skittles in the front pocket of your jeans, send ‘em through the washer and drier about a thousand times and then try to separate them. Though I don’t see Josh for years at a time, Josh will never be a stranger to me. And also, every time I see him, I think to myself “I could have sworn that was my hat at one point…”

Josh wears many hats (not all of ‘em used to be mine): intrepid leader of The High Strung, long distance adventurer, professional enthusiast, horror aficionado, and author of the novels Wendy and Bird Box and now the Kindle Single Ghastle and Yule. We gchatted yesterday—listen in.

Mishka
I see you
You can’t hide
you ready to rock?

Josh
ready. rolling already. might as well rock

Mishka
So… Jesus, we’ve known each other for a long time.
2003?
Blackoutfest?

Josh
Yes, and that’s the perfect place for us to have met. That bar is a strange combo of dark-mindscrew and love fest. Both of which you and I relate to well.

Mishka
Man, I bet either/ both of us could write a novella just centered around The Union with our Sam the Lion, Scott Winland.

Josh
I think about it all the time! A band bio. Nonfiction. It could start in the Union. Did you know that the Union was the first venue to give us a gig over the phone? We’re talking first out of what became like 2,000 shows.
Some places are personal landmarks, you know.

Mishka
Wow. For that, you should either buy Scott a pony or kick him in the nuts.

Josh
ha

Mishka
I came very close to getting a tattoo of the Union’s address

Josh
Great idea. And we came close to moving to Athens. Like I said, dark minds crew!

Mishka
So… there are a lot of Josh Malermans kicking around these days. My primary experience of Josh Malerman is of the erudite frontman of a scrappy rock’n’roll band. Why writing? Why movies? Why are these other Josh’s necessary?
Most writers I know would give their right arm to play in a rock band

Josh
Oh man, you’re bringing my identity crisis to life. I thought I was the only one who knew about it. Well… it all begins with me writing some really shitty poems… dark stuff… men singing from underground… models with two glass eyes… and a friend, Mark Owen, singing those poems over other friends playing music. So, I’ve been writing, and writing “horror” forever. But it took my musical friends to get me involved. That was at age 19, 20. Something like that. And, of course, from there I got bit. Hard. The music bug. I fell in love. But I never stopped writing the books. And yet, it wasn’t until Mark left the band (I was 29 years old then) that I finally, mercifully, finished my first novel. WENDY. Scary as hell. And from there the novels and albums went hand in hand… one after the other.

So… all these “Josh’s” have always been here. But, as I’m sure you know with the “Mishkas”, some of them lurk, then lunge, lurk then lunge.

Mishka
Absolutely. And they need to eat and sleep so fortunately, there’s usually only two of them awake and causing trouble at once, but that’s still one more than we’re used to dealing with.

Josh
You know what’s really hard? Stepping from the book bubble to the song sphere. It’s almost like you have to clear the slime of the novels off your arms before you can pick up the guitar.

Mishka
Okay, this is interesting because from my perspective, your rock and your writing appear hopelessly entwined. I’m thinking of the ‘Wretched Boy’ video, in which a struggling writer appears. Do they parasite off each other? Do they compete? Is it a symbiotic relationship? Are they like small children, best friends one day and mortal enemies the next?

Josh
They absolutely compete. Sometimes the novelist turns his nose up at the “short song” guy and then the songwriter plays something good and the novelist wishes he could write something with that much “feel.” There is definitely an identity crisis with the pair, but it’s one I kinda egg on. Fan the flames. And I love that the books and songs are different, in tone. To me, horror, rock n roll, science fiction, cartoons, they all come from the same place; this punkish exhilarating celebratory place. R. Crumb and Stephen King and Eddie Cochran all kinda make sense to me together… Shadowy Classic Americana. And all three are as deep, as rich, as Fitzgerald. I wouldn’t say the two sides are symbiotic… unless they are and I don’t know it. They seem more… jealous… than they are rooting for one another. But, like brothers, who cares? They’re stuck together all the same.

Mishka
Well, I’d argue that the story of Ghastle and Yule wouldn’t be worth telling were it not for jealousy and rivalry. Stories spring out of darkness and conflict. Narrative seems to gush out of you with great pressure. Maybe it’s these two competing urges that keep you enthusiastic (no small feat in our current world, to say nothing of MI) and make you so prolific?

Josh
For years I thought it was funny to tell people that I wrote out of guilt. And my great friend Derek Berk once warned me that you should be careful what you joke about because if you joke about it long enough, it becomes true. Well, that freakin’ happened. More likely I was just right all along. There is a really nasty push going on behind me all the time, a nag almost, who keeps telling me I gotta write the next one, the next one, the next one. A week goes by without a new idea and I start to get nervous. Is that it, then? Are we done? Is this how it ends? In line at Target, getting Allison a scented candle? FUCK! I thought the ending would come with trumpets… banners! Well… of course it’s not the end. Hasn’t been yet. But I don’t mind the nag because he/she is responsible for a lifetime of total joy… of feeling rewarded… of good work. I think it’s wildly important to maintain enthusiasm for your own work… at least while working on it. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but the reason I remind myself is because there is GOING TO come that time… around page 200… in a rough draft, where you’re looking at 200 more and you can kinda freak out. GULP. Same thing as being 6 songs into an album. In those moments I open the cellar door in my mind and holler down, “Okay! Bring out the enthusiasm gimp! We need help!” And he’s always there. Cause that’s where I keep him.

Mishka
Is running out of material your greatest fear? Or running out of enthusiasm? For a horror writer, this is an important question.

Josh
Ghastle and Yule, the characters, sometimes feel like “Art” vs “Commerce” for me. They have some of both in both of them, but if I had to pick, I’d say Allan Yule was more of the artist. And yet, Ghastle marries the freak performance artist and Yule has handlers. There might be a current in that story, something that says, “neither side is so pure.”

Running out of enthusiasm is my greatest fear. Yes. I wrote a book, called PEST, about a fella who runs out of zest. He can’t figure out why. So he begins to believe there’s an entity in his rooms, draining him of enthusiasm. He sets out to trap it. The whole book takes place in his apartment and when I was done i was like, “Shit, man, you just wrote a book about a guy trying to trap depression!”

Mishka
Sometimes I can’t believe we’re friends because we’re such different people. And then I think that that is the only reason we’re friends. I got to a point, when I was circling round the drain, where I was high on morphine and getting a blowjob and I felt bored nearly to tears. But then, that was a huge character flaw– sex and oblivion were the only things I could maintain enthusiasm for. And then just oblivion.

Josh
Man. Did that really happen? Well, I realize I can reference art maybe too often… I turn to it for literally everything, Identity foremost… but one note on enthusiasm and the fear of losing it: Imagine you have written 20 novels but don’t care for them. Now imagine you’ve written none, but are crazy thirsty high on life and want to write a book one day. I’ll actually take the latter. And because I’ve fallen in love with writing, I FIND thrills there. In other words… I don’t think I write for the sake of writing… but for the thrill of it. Which so far has been endless. Infinite. How scary to run out! I guess it’d be like falling out of love with someone who all your friends know is the right one for you.

Mishka
Or maybe even darker– to stop loving your Mom.

Josh
And by the way… it can be a delicate thing… writing horror and talking enthusiasm all the time. Horror is supposed to be for the dark of mind, dark of spirit, yeah? Well, I’m not so sure! Again, I see Horror as the Imagination strapped into a catapult and sent BOOMING into the sky. A night sky… but still.

Oh man. “To stop loving your mom.” Wow.
That’s a good book idea.

Mishka
I just depressed myself with that! Kinda proud.

Josh
you just turned the lights OFF.

Mishka
I love the visual of Imagination strapped into a catapult and shot off into the sky. But that calls to mind that Stephen King story where teleportation is invented and becomes as ubiquitous as air travel today. The only catch is that if you’re conscious during it, it makes you insane. And, of course, since it’s Stephen King we’re talking about, a kid dodges the anesthesia and stays awake and appears at the other end stark, raving mad… So my question off that long aside is: can there be too much writing? Too much story? Too many songs? I’m thinking of Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates and Bob Pollard here.

Josh
Ah, the dreaded word “Prolific.” At some point in history, that word has become a negative. Strange. Take Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen… two holy shit artists who released (or are releasing) a movie a year for their entire careers. Hitchcock’s first five movies were silent! Not by choice! And he made movies into the 70s. Woody Allen is on movie… 60? The question is… is that too much? Sometimes I think it has to do with where you start with the artist. If you’ve been there from the beginning, then it’s never too much. You’re in step with him/her and you get their new release and you experience it and there you have it.

But if you’re coming to Bob Pollard NOW? Well, shit, you’re 75 albums late and that feels insurmountable. “I don’t know where to start with this guy, so I’m gonna start with someone else instead.” I worry about it. I worry that when people tell me I’m prolific they’re also saying, “So it’d be unlikely that they’re all good, all great, and chances are none of them really stand out.” Of course, I know this isn’t true. But, like most people, I care about what others think. So when I’m out and somebody says a writer is “prolific,” I feel compelled to PROVE to them that I’m not.

“Oh, well… 20 novels… sure… but if you wrote one measly page a day every day you’d reach 365 by year’s end and after so many years…” I try to explain it through simple math. A similar thing is when folks describe you as a “hard worker.” Nobody describes Brian Wilson as a hard worker. He’s a flowing genius! Swimming in melody! Struck by Thunder Gods of Music! But me? Hello, I’m a “prolific hard worker.” So yes, yeah, I worry about those things. But not enough to slow down. That would be madness. All I can hope for is, some day the whole body of work becomes a tapestry, where no single work of art that I created is the standard, no single work the ONE. I like all the colors together, all in one room, crazy like Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I’ve got a song called “the Quilt of Delirium” and sometimes I think that’s what my canon has become.

Mishka
Oh man. I LOVE that response. I would give my legs for someone to call me “a prolific hard worker.”

Josh
Believe you me! It starts to sting!

Mishka
Each man is the architect of his own Hell, Josh. You’re building yours and I’m building mine.

Josh
That has me thinking of the Farside where the two devils are looking down on that man whistling in Hell pushing a wheelbarrow and one is saying something like, “We’re just not getting through to this guy.”

Mishka
God, I miss the Far Side so much! Genius. I feel fortunate to have grown up with that twisted sensibility.

Josh
Talk about a strange artist! Gary Larson! Where the heck has Gary Larson gone???

Mishka
I know!
Gary Larson, if you’re reading this: PLEASE COME HOME

Josh
I read that he gave it up, hasn’t drawn a picture in fifteen years. He said he had started repeating himself. Whatever he did, I wish he’d repeat himself again then.

Mishka
He’s a perfect example of someone who was prolific enough to criticize for it and now that he’s gone, it’s like… shit, we realized we need you.

Josh
Absolutely. Some 4,000 panels later you’re left thinking, “Well shit… NO more observations??”
Bob Pollard. What an interesting one that is. I love it. I love that I’ve read 13 Stephen King books and there’s 50 more to check out. I love that I’ve seen every Woody Allen movie and yet another is coming out next year. I love the canon! The scope! Even if a fella repeats himself… in a way… I don’t mind cause that’s HIS thing, you know?

Mishka
Oh yeah. CCR is so formulaic… and man, what an awesome formula!

Josh
I once read on this one horror writer’s website that he said he was “annoyed with writers who write too much.” It felt obvious to me that he was talking about “pop” novelists, and that he probably included Stephen King in that lot. But what a shameful way to think. “Don’t write today because you don’t want to write too much!”

Mishka
I have said the exact same thing. And the subtext is “I wish I had a good, novel idea.”
I totally adore Stephen King and really hate it when anyone tries to take the piss out of him.
I’d be hard-pressed to name a writer who has been more influential over our generation.
He is our bogeyman.

Josh
Ah, well therein may lie the key to being prolific! Because I’ve murdered the man in my brain who says “good or bad novel idea.” I murdered him and buried him beside his wife (who brought him to think this way in the first place) and now the place I go to look for ideas has no governor. No bully. I’m not afraid of writing a bad book.

Mishka
That may be the first step to writing a good book: do not fear writing a bad book.

Anyway, let’s bring it back to the new Kindle Single
You said Ghastle and Yule can be seen as representing Art and Commerce
which is a delicate balancing act you and I both try to tread.
with your final lines, I saw them as two eyes
we only see things in 3-D because we have two eyes that see objects from different perspectives

Josh
Wow. I think that’s best possible interpretation of Ghastle and Yule. The two eyes of the narrator, or the two eyes of an obsessive artist.

Mishka
I found it very funny, very ironic, and very Malerman that your wrote a story about movies that could never be a movie, and a novel that’s so visual it’s almost a longhand movie.

Josh
well I’ve always been a tweener. The High Strung are too pop for the hippies and possibly too happy for the punks!

Mishka
The in-between space is where all the interesting shit happens.

Josh
Regarding Ghastle and Yule, I’d been reading this “History of Italian Cinema” book and it struck me that, though I only knew half of the movies being described, each of them played out for me as though a complete story had been told. I was on a novella kick… had written a few of them… and so I decided right away to get to work on a fake history of horror cinema. My first idea was to describe two directors who try to out-gore one another. In the early 60’s, this could be a fun story. The rudimentary special effects. How each of them churn their fake blood. But it grew into an obsession story. Which I was fine with. Somehow, Yule ended up with all my favorite ideas. Not sure why he was blessed that way.

Mishka
I described writing fiction once as like playing GI Joes. The best part is when you take your hands away and they keep moving. It sounds like that happened with this story.

Josh
It did. Yeah. The thing that surprised me most was when Gordon Ghastle was able to maintain some artistry despite the industry circus going on around him. I liked him for that. And Yule, rogue as he was, kinda became industry himself. In a way. So, of course, they meet a bit in the middle. But I’d wager to say that if those two guys were real? We could pick one or the other as our favorite. And I like that best about them. I guess I kinda love ART AS EVENT. I remember when the High Strung were out on the road and we went into a record store and there were two life-sized cardboard cut-outs of the two fellas from Outkast. I was like, “Fuck! Their album release is an EVENT.” I want that. You know? Who doesn’t? And Ghastle and Yule achieved that in their own careers.

Mishka
They struck me as two sides of the same coin, sort of an Andy Kaufman/ Tony Clifton thing going on. Much as they hated each other, one couldn’t exist without the other.

Josh
I do think they made “Obscurity” together.

Mishka
aha! that’s great insight
and fitting that an actor and a female actor was the sacrifice

Josh
Of course, I don’t know any more than you do! But I think there was something like the Prestige going on here. Christian Bale’s character. How he and his twin brother devoted their lives to the magic show. I think Ghastle and Yule planned Obscurity their entire careers.

“Planned Obscurity.” Funny thing to say about two famous guys.

Mishka
and where are they now? Bickering in the balcony like the two old men in the Muppet Show? Or interviewing each other via gchat?

Josh Malerman is typing…

Music, Sobriety, Videos, Writing

no use going this way

No Comments 02 March 2014

I spent most of last week down in Virginia putting the final touches on my “new” solo record “Alcoholica” with the incredibly talented composer Erik Nickerson. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done on it (okay, mostly proud of the work Erik has done on it) but I have grave misgivings about unleashing it on the world.

 

One morning when I was 16, my friend Nick walked into my room without knocking. I was sorely hungover, laying in pile of blankets on the floor. He threw a book at me.

“You need to read this,” he said and then walked out.

I picked it up. The book was “Women” by Charles Bukowski.

I have replayed that moment over and over again in my mind, forwards and backwards: I am holding a book in my hands, unreading its title, unlearning its author’s name. I place it on my bed. Nick walks into my room backwards, articulates sounds I cannot understand and the book flutters off my bed into his hands. Nick walks out of my room backwards, carrying that evil tome out of my life. I lower myself onto my greasy pillow and retreat instantly back into sleep. The alcohol dyhydrogenase in my blood combines with the acetyl radicals and hydrogen in my body to form acetaldehyde, which is turned back into ethyl alcohol. My sleeping body returns from painfully hungover to blissfully drunk. Charles Bukowski never enters my life.

I took that book as my Bible. I was in pain and Bukowski’s wounded, macho bluster made instant sense to me. Long before my father had disappeared on us, I’d made up my mind to live in opposition to his circumscribed life, fleeing persecution at home to persecution at work, running frantically back and forth like a dog clipped to a clothesline wearing a rut in the lawn. Bukowski provided the map, the blueprint, the easy-to-follow-assembly instructions, the User’s Manual. An Idiot’s Guide, if you will. Where my father had been responsible, I would be free. Where he had capitulated, I would be uncompromising. My father was neurotic and fussy, hardly a man at all. Johnny Cash on one shoulder and Charles Bukowski on the other, I would be chaos.

For the amount of damage Bukowski wreaked on my life, I would have been better off if, instead of that narrow trade paperback from Black Sparrow Press, Nick had just given me the Anarchist’s Handbook or the Necronomicon or a vial of crystal meth or a test tube of weapons-grade anthrax or a loaded Kalishnikov. For a young man searching for how to live and who to be, it’s hard to imagine a worse influence than Bukowski.

 

When I quit drinking nearly five years ago, it put me at odds with my own music. My public appearances have been incredibly sparse since I sobered up. I finally had an epiphany last year while playing a show I had been coaxed into. I was playing a mean-spirited song I’d written when I was 25. As I was listening to the words come out of my mouth and listening to people laughing in spots that made me uncomfortable I realized that it’s not just that I no longer identify with this guy, I don’t like him. He’s fatalistic and nihilistic and he takes way too many cheap shots at women. I’m done with him.

But he’s not done with me. While I was off getting my life together and running too much, my shadow-self has been kicking much ass on the Internet. My old pal Doug Stanhope uses one of my old songs “The Only One Drinking Tonight” as the theme music for his podcast. (Let’s be clear—I feel only gratitude to Doug for that. I worked my ass off on that record and my work is my work is my work and I’m proud of all of it.) Our pal Jack Andino made a great and depressing video for the song featuring my buddies Andy Andrist, James Inman and Norm Wilkerson misbehaving on a hopeless comedy tour. That video now has 15,000 views.

This must be why I keep getting added on social media by troubled young men: maybe 25 years old, raccoon-eyed, questionable employment. I’m always puzzled when I click on their profiles—if these guys are going out for a run, it’s a beer run—until I recognize a quote in their profiles from one of my songs.

So… listen up. You should read all my stories. You should listen to all my records. By all means, buy the fucking T-shirt. But I am not a role model. The path I chose brought immeasurable grief to a lot of good people who didn’t deserve it, and also to me. This nihilistic record that’s coming out this year is not How You Should Live, it’s just how I lived until I finally came to my senses.

As unlikely and miraculous as my transformation has been, there are still a lot of people who haven’t forgiven me, and with good reason. I was a destructive alcoholic shithead. Don’t do it, man. There’s no use going this way.

 

Music, Writing

In Memory Of Adam Fisher

3 Comments 30 August 2013

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.”

She did.

 

‘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.   

Music, Writing

Seattle-Olympia-Portland-LA

1 Comment 22 October 2012

rare West Coast tour coming up with solo shows in  Olympia & Seattle, a weeklong residency in Portland, OR and a reading in LA! Details are below.

Fri, Nov. 2nd at Comet Tavern

922 East Pike Street

Seattle, WA   98122

unhappy hour! 6pm only $5

 

Sat, Nov. 3rd at 4th Avenue Tavern

210 East 4th Avenue
Olympia, WA  98501

w/ Sasparilla Only $5! I play at 9:30

 

RESIDENCY AT CRYSTAL HOTEL in PORTLAND, OR!!!

Sun, Nov. 4th – Sat, Nov. 10th **FREE**

303 S.W. 12th Street, Portland, OR   97205

every night at 7pm with special guests:

11/4 Angels & Airwaves

11/5 Lincoln’s Beard

11/6 Roots Vein

11/7 Henry Kammerer (Hillstomp)

11/8 Michael Dean Damron

11/9 Vinny D.

11/10 Vacliando

Music, Writing

The Mike & Judy Radio Show

No Comments 06 August 2012

 

I played a coupla unreleased songs and got into a spirited debate with hosts Judy McGuire and Mike Edison and guest Mike Albo (also a Kindle Singles author/ performer/ freakshow like me) about digital publishing, the effects of e-readers on hardbacks, reality TV and how stupid the Olympics are. For my troubles, I got a ginger ale and some pizza. This is my second time on their show and I’m always stunned by how topical, articulate, well-informed and funny they are. I was a stuttering ape, as usual. I did get off one good big-boob analogy though…

You can download the entire show here

Music, Recommendations

hilarious & bleak new vid up

No Comments 02 July 2012

My pal Jack Anddino cut this cool video to one of my old songs, “The Only One Drinking Tonight.” It features my friends Andy Andrist, James Inman and Norm Wilkerson, all of whom are great, funny guys and horrible drunks.


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