Wednesday, February 4, 2009

11 O'Clock Tick Tock

Neil Peart describes it (in his books) as a disease called: "the internal jukebox". I have always joked that my rides are good, or bad based on what song is stuck on repeat in my casaba. Today it was a bitter sweet U2 song. It's a song I love, and a song that carries a profound sadness for me.

My last year in Ft. Pierce, I used to surf with a couple guys I met from Jacksonville. They invited me to one of the most insane party's I had ever attended. A bunch of surfer/swimmers had a shindig which (among other debauchery) involved a bulldozer, a destroyed construction fence and me skateboarding/falling down a flight of stairs, without spilling a drop of beer. When the semester ended they left and I lost touch with them.

My first day at T.C.C. in 1987, I was rushing to a class, when I heard someone call my name. Mark Stephans was walking toward me with his hands out at his sides in a "what the hell" gesture. We exchanged info, and over the next few weeks started my first Tallahassee band: "The Reign".

Mark wasn't a great guitar player, he wasn't even a good guitar player, but I became attached to him. He had a great quirky sense of humor and he could disarm my intense behavior with a grin and one liner. It is very out of character for me to keep sub par players around, but I couldn't bring myself to fire Mark. All musicians good or bad usually do one thing really well, and for Mark that was a song by U2. He loved that song, and even though his ability was limited, he would always nail it. He suffered from severe stage fright and as we played over the next year, he became a hard core drinker. I confronted him about it, I told bartenders not to serve him, all to no avail. The band had a meeting and demanded that I let him go. I too, had reached the end of my rope, and over lunch I gave him the bad news. He teared up and so did I, but I couldn't cover for him anymore and I was angry. I was angry that he wouldn't, or couldn't stop, and I was angry that one of my favorite people, was denying me his company.

He moved back to Jacksonville to recover. One night at a gig, he reappeared. He said he was sober, and asked if he could come back. I couldn't take a chance on him and I didn't want to get rid of the guy that helped us when Mark left. He walked out and I never saw him again. It was a terrible moment, I will never forget.

A couple of years later at the Cab Stand his ex girlfriend told us he had died. He locked himself in a hotel room and drank till it was over. He had a lot of unresolved pain and his drinking had ravaged his body. He truly was a gentle soul that wasn't tough enough for this world. He was twenty eight years old.

The first line of the song is; "It's cold outside" which was what I was thinking as I rolled down Woodgate, suffering in the wind. It started the song, and movies of him in my mind, as I struggled to eek out two hours of ride time.

We played the song for Mark that night and fumbled through the rest of the set, before having a few beers, and telling stories about him. I always felt like I had a hand in his demise. I tried to save him, but I didn't have the tools. I still laugh from time to time, when I think of things he said, and whenever that song comes up, it always reminds me of him.

"Call out your out.... you better call out!"

I miss you Bro, I'm sorry.