It was in the first week of school last year, and I was right in the middle of a lesson, when (out of the blue) one my students yells out: “Hey, Mr. H. Your friend, Tom (last name), says to say hello.”
It was one of those jolting moments that comes right out of the blue. All I could say was, “Oh. Tell him I said hello, too” and then I moved on with the lesson while a picture of Tom floated in my head. Later, I pulled my student aside and she said Tom was her counselor and he had told her that we had both been in a rock and roll band together.
We sure had.
In our band, Big Daddy Kiljoy, Tom was one of the lead singers, a fanatic bass player and my fellow songwriter, and when the band broke up, Tom and I spent many hours together, writing songs and thinking about this world of music and what it means. It’s not quite right to say that Tom and I were kindred spirits — we were pretty different people — but I found his inquisitiveness about the world and his love for writing and playing songs such a wonderful thing.
When it come to listening to songs, Tom didn’t pull too many punches. If he liked it, he told you. If he didn’t, he’d let you know, but then he would encourage you to consider this chord change, or this instrument, or maybe even revamp the entire thing into something completely new. You could see the wheels spinning as he talked.
He played bass like he thought: full speed ahead, thumping like a madman and drawing up energy from that fretboard. His bass lines were like a railroad car, just on the verge of crashing and yet always right on track. I loved that sense of abandon in his playing.
Later, Tom built a recording studio in hopes of creating some sort of collective of musicians that could come in, record songs and demos and even commercials, and that would be his gateway into the music industry. I worked for a while with him on that project, but it never really went anywhere. He also had plenty of tales to tell of his younger days in rock bands and some brushes with fame that never quite went anywhere but still infused him with a love of the scene.
Then, as things in life do, Tom and I moved in some different directions and I only saw him now and then. I’d see his daughters around town every now and then, and I run into his ex-wife periodically, too.
This weekend, after a long illness, Tom passed away and I feel a bit as if some music died, too.
I’ll have to pull out the Big Daddy Kiljoy CD that we made as band in the days before everything imploded and fell apart on us, and maybe I can find a few of the other demo tapes, too, and give it a listen and remember Tom in all of his glory.
Somewhere, Tom has an electric guitar plugged into an amp and he is writing himself one doozy of a song. I just know it.
Peace (in bass riffs and rock and roll),