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The next day, the day of the show, was sunny and warm. Mid-April is sometimes gorgeous. Cherry blossoms blossom. My dad drove us down to the Fairmount section of the city. My dad’s more responsible for my love for music than any band I discovered in the early 00s. Growing up, he played the trumpet and piano. He marched in his high school band. He and his brother embraced jazz music during a time when many people did not embrace jazz music, except for Europe. My father played in the Georgetown band, cut a record with them, and performed for Bobby Kennedy in Bobby Kennedy’s house. My dad visited jazz clubs in the roughest parts of a city with his brother and their friends. He’d sit in and play the trumpet. I used to sit in my parents’ room with my dad as he unwound from a hard day’s work. I’d sit and listen to him explain music theory to me or explore the relationship of mathematics to music. He printed articles and found books about the subject. He’d play the jazz records of Clifford Brown, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk, among many others. I remember leaving New York City with my dad and listening to jazz as the skyline of Brooklyn disappeared from view. My dad was fond of driving around Center City on random nights. On these drives I heard the beautiful voice of Carolyn Leonhart for the first time, daughter of the great jazz bassist, Jay Leonhart; she sang about wanting a Sunday kind of love. I heard “The Man With A Horn” and felt more the power, the soul, of my dad’s beloved music, this jazz that touched him to the core, and which, he told my mom, he felt in his soul-that it was part of him, in him. I told my dad one time about my friend’s opinion that punk rock and jazz were similar. My dad, in his special and specific way, smiled and said, “Is that so.” The first time I played him one of my band’s demos, he politely corrected the tempo, and bought me a metronome. Late into the night the neighbors would hear him practicing his trumpet. Bell’s palsy briefly threatened his chance to play his horn. The horn was part of him; it seemed miraculous when he recovered and played the horn again. He worked hard working out his chops. Once again, he sat in at jazz clubs in dangerous parts of the city, with players younger than him, college aged, who did not near his musical ear or his ability to play the trumpet. I remember the day he lost complete hearing in his left ear. My mom told me. I felt so sad thinking about how it’d affect his playing, and his joy of driving city streets, along rural roads, to and from Wilmington where he spent Friday evenings with his brother, and listening to WRTI; but the loss of hearing in his left ear did not hurt his playing or his joy of music. He found joy in the simple pleasures of life: a sunset, a ferry ride from Cape May to Lewes, a piece of pizza from the Pizza Box in Greenwich village, buying my mother a cup of coffee from Wawa, browsing the Wawa for tastycakes, driving me to and from college, taking me and my sister to school dances in high school, visiting my older brother Barry in San Francisco and my older sister ,her husband, and his grandchildren, wherever they may’ve lived at the time, seeing his brother and long-time friend on Friday nights to talk jazz and good literature, driving around Wildwood to show me and my sister and mother where he and his brother and cousins used to roam, where he and his brother would drop out of trees in the 1950s on unsuspecting people waiting for the bus, listening to Key Largo as we passed Key Largo on the drive to Cape May for the ferry trip, and standing quietly on the beach in Rehoboth late at night as the moon hung over the ocean, the tide low and calm, the glassy water reflecting the moon’s silvery light, I feel his presence, his soul--I feel closest to him there, at the beach, standing where we stood, even though he's not here anymore--when I’m standing still at the end of the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach or along Cape Henlopen State Park, late at night, with us involved in an impromptu game of Wiffle Ball, when I’m listening to music and remembering what he told me about it and what music meant to him, when I read James Joyce, the author he introduced me to, when I read about the pain and grief Leopold Bloom feels about his deceased father, and I know I owe him a greater, more thorough, more significant, tribute, more like Joyce’s portrait of John Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, or Fyodor’s recollections of his father in the second chapter of Nabokov’s The Gift, than a long paragraph about my Schwoe story (though without his, and my mother’s, loving support and encouragement of me since my birth, Schwoe would not have been), when I read a letter he wrote me for a religious retreat in which he imagined a life years and years away from that October 2004 night, me older and writing stories for Hollywood studios, him retired, us seeing the country together. He used to walk around Dewey Beach by himself to remember his late son, my late brother, Sean. I’ve never felt sadder than the day I learned, in a bright hallway in one of the buildings of the University of Pennsylvania hospital, that his health had declined. I took two buses home and cannot describe the way I felt as the city passed me, as people got on and off the bus, living their ordinary lives while mine felt so unordinary, would stay unordinary for days and weeks and months and years beyond. I was alone. He wrote to me, in that October 2004 letter, that he’d miss the days when I wouldn’t need him to drive me to places, places like the Northstar. I wouldn’t have been at the Northstar nor wouldn’t have begun Schwoe without my father’s nurturing of music, of writing, in my soul.
The North Star is a non-descript bar on the corner of one of the many small streets in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia. The bar is divided between the stage and the bar. The part of the bar where the bands perform is rectangular. The green room is downstairs. There’s a place to move around on the floor, and a place to stand and watch, drink a beer, and socialize. Allister brought along Don’t Look Down, Fallout Boy, and a random six-piece band from the area whose third guitarist did nothing but tune his guitar for their entire set.
Jawn and I settled in. Three members of The Early November were at the show. I didn’t bother the band. I felt I needed to respect their space on a day when they just wanted to take in a show like anyone else. I wouldn’t break the rules of The Scene. What were the rules? I couldn’t tell you. I simply felt that I couldn’t transgress the rules even if I didn’t specifically know any of them. I didn’t want to bother The Early November.
Fallout out Boy played second that day. Before MTV and Pete Wentz’s public relationship with Ashlee Simpson, Fallout Bay was a small pop-punk band from Chicago. The members came together to form their band after extended time in the hardcore scene of Chicago. No one knew who Fallout Boy was that day. I became of fan of the band for nearly two years because of their performance that Saturday afternoon. Their energy was infectious. I wanted to run off the walls like Pete Wentz. They didn’t slow down. I mentally noted to include them as the Band of the Month in the April issue of Schwoe. After the show, their guitarist stood behind their merch table, alone, trying to sell merchandise. That’s how it was done. Fallout Boy earned their later success in the mainstream.
Don’t Look Down and Allister closed the show. Don’t Look Down performed songs from their self-titled record and their forthcoming debut E.P. on Nitro Records. Allister stole the show back from Fallout Boy. They played maybe fifteen songs. They were better than the night they played at the Pontiac Grille. Tim was drunk and joked around. Scott joked about their band’s lack of slow songs. I shook the hands of various band members and told them they were awesome. I left, satisfied, and re-energized for the April issue of Schwoe.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Fallout Boy. I told friends about how good they were. Their cd wouldn’t get released for a few weeks. I already decided to make them the Band of the Month, interview or not, cd review or not.
I came home from school the Monday after the show and checked the mailbox. Inside I found a package for me. I hadn’t ordered a package from the website Interpunk.com, which was where I bought my shirts, hoodies, and CDs. The package was from Elsie. I saw her name underneath the name of the place she worked. I carried the mail into the house and opened the package. I found press materials.: photos, stickers, a band’s biography, and a review copy of their cd. I didn’t expect press kits, but I received the press kit for Fallout Boy’s debut cd. Included among the press materials was a letter from Elsie, general to whoever received the press kit, in which she said she’d set up an interview with the band upon request. I used to pull my hair out trying to secure interviews with bands. It could be this easy? I e-mailed her to tell her I wanted an interview. “They’re going to be band of the month,” I told her. She replied and said she’d set it up. I wanted an e-mail interview after the disaster of the transcript for The Starting Line. I had a deadline, though. Yes, Schwoe actually had deadlines. I told her I needed the interview by X day in April to run it by month’s end. I stressed that Fallout Boy would be the Band of the Month. That meant nothing, of course, in retrospect. I sent them questions through Elsie. The band never responded.
The non-response didn’t bother me. The press kit surprised me and changed my perspective about Schwoe. I believed the press kit marked a new era for Schwoe. I added “Yeah!” to the title, as in “Schwoe YEAH!” because I felt the press kits affirmed my fanzine, and that it legitimized Schwoe.
The April issue marked the first time I didn’t include an interview. I wrote about Fallout Boy, the show at the North Star, and their cd Take This To Your Grave. I wrote 6-7 sentences about Halifax, a local band growing in popularity, and another band Elsie represented, The Rocket Summer. The issue is ho-hum. I didn’t write 3,000 words for each story, which is what I liked to do six years later while blogging about LOST for my college newspaper. I barely wrote at all. The write-ups about bands were snap-shots highlighting the essentials of the band. Schwoe was a snap-shot kind of zine. I highlighted the essential elements of The Scene in a month.
I sent April’s issue of Schwoe to Elsie. She asked, would I like to interview Anberlin, a new band that would release its debut album soon on Tooth & Nail records. She asked would I like to interview various other bands. She continued mailing me press kits. I received press kits for Armor For Sleep, Shai Hulud, Anberlin. I received a press kit for five local hardcore bands-bands that played around Frankford and Fishtown and Northern Liberties. I received press kits for The Bled, an impressive New York post-punk band, Fairweather, and This Day Forward. Schwoe would’ve become her agency’s personal newsletter offering a who’s who of bands they represented, marketed, and pushed for. I established no other contacts in the music business besides Elsie. Other publicists I spoke to went away after an interview. Elsie didn’t. She lingered. She mailed.
The press kits were extraordinary, but the interviews were more difficult to land. For May, I wanted to get back to the basics. The bands on labels with publicists were a pain in the ass, honestly, and Dan had a treasure trove of local Long Island bands interested in exposure. I spoke to various local bands, like 5 Days Ahead, but those talks broke down before I sent a list of questions to their e-mail inbox.
Local interviews for me fell through, but an interview with Yellowcard did not. Yellowcard distinguished itself as a unique band in the pop-punk scenebecause one of the members played the violin. I liked their acoustic song “Rough Draft.” Yellowcard experienced tremendous success in the summer of 2003 and beyond. They had signed with Capitol Records after years with independent record labels. “Ocean Avenue” hit airwaves two months after my interview with Ben. I e-mailed their publicist, Paul, about interviewing the band. Paul responded quickly and said something could be arranged. We agreed to a phone interview. The band was in the process of promoting their record aggressively two months prior to its release. Paul told me I’d interview Ben Harper, the band’s lead guitarist, on a Friday afternoon. Jawn wanted to come over after school to listen in on the interview and possibly contribute to it. Schwoe’s staff constantly fluctuated. If someone wanted to get in on it, I was more than happy to have the help. I felt cooler when someone wanted to join the nonsense of Schwoe. Jawn couldn’t make it due to a previous engagement. Jawn, that gentleman, promised a lady he’d take her to her school’s Spring Fling. Homecoming was cooler than The Starting Line and Spring Flings were cooler than Yellowcard.
I came home from school on that Friday afternoon in late April. I made sure the phone recorded calls. I dreaded a repeat of the transcript issue during The Starting Line interview. Ilya still hadn’t sent the transcript to me. I spent the day in school writing down questions to ask Ben.
Ben was the nicest person I interviewed during Schwoe. He was polite and friendly. He was genuinely humble about his band’s accomplishment. I asked him about the arc of his band but in a much dumber way than that because I felt nervous, and because I was a teenager. I wanted to know how an indie band got to sign with a major label. I probably thought about my own band, which was not on a good trajectory at all. I would be kicked out of my own band in less than eight weeks. Ben explained the work ethic of Yellowcard. They played constantly in Orange County. Eventually, they started selling out places. An independent label, Lobster, signed them and put out their first full length, One For The Kids, and their agent had a contact in Capitol Records. The A.R. from Capitol checked out a few shows and convinced Yellowcard that Capitol was where they needed to be. Ben and the rest of the band agreed.
I asked Ben to describe the band’s new record. Ben instead used his answer to talk about the progression of his band. Ocean Avenue, the new record, was better overall than past releases, he told me; the band had been playing for a couple of years and the more you do something, the better you get. Yellowcard wasn’t different from me then. Not really. The more I wrote, the better I wrote. Ben explained that the sound of the band didn’t change, but the technical skill of the band improved. Songs were crisper, tighter. Ryan Key and Ben were improved guitarists, Sean was an improved violinist, Longineu was a better drummer. I even asked a question Yellowcard fans wanted to know: why didn’t Ryan play “Rough Draft” anymore? “Rough Draft” is an overwrought acoustic song that angst-y teenagers eat up. Ben answered honestly: Ryan’s mantra was that he wouldn’t play songs that aren’t honest anymore. Ryan had a bad break-up with a girl, wrote a sappy song about it, reconciled with her and felt bad singing a song he didn’t mean. When Ben left the band a few years later. Ryan wrote a song titled “Five Becomes Four” about Ben. I didn’t believe Ben could inspire such a scathing song. He was a gentleman and a great interview, and I thanked him; but one mustn’t presume to know a man from a 25-minute interview. We hung up. I listened to the interview and transcribed it. I planned to run it in the June issue, right when Yellowcard took off, and I’d have The Starting Line with it. June became the next big issue.
NEXT: The Forgettable May Issue