For My Brothers in California: In the Spirit of Almost and Right Now You’re Feeling Me

MattOB
Ocean Beach, 2006
In honor of my brother Matthew Tucker on his birthday (April 6), the first of today’s tracks is a showcase of his talent. I don’t normally do this but I would urge the reader to read the story all the way through.

This is the way I remember it. Matt was a reserved but friendly 19-year-old kid when we began playing together. It was very late 1988 – early 1989. Darien, IL – a western suburb of Chicago. Matt’s sister Sue was in my graduating class at Hinsdale South H.S. and the Tuckers lived across the street from my girlfriend. Meanwhile, the Tuckers were close with the Daly family, who lived directly behind them, and we all knew each other from school. So I was acquainted with Tuckers Matt, Sue and youngest brother Mike, but we weren’t close friends or anything. They have an older brother John, who I think is my older sister’s age. Not sure.

At this point, the band was called Idiot Savants, and it was me on vocals and guitar, Michael “Cal” Callahan on guitar, Randy Edman on bass, and Daniel Callahan on drums. We were headquartered in the Callahan’s basement, and self-recorded a couple of demos before Dan quit.

There were a bunch of drummers coming out of Darien at the time, and Matt Daly was considered “the best”, but he wasn’t available and didn’t have time for slackers like us. Matt Daly was also in my class and somewhat of an inspiration – I decided to switch from drums to guitar since he already had drums covered. Anyhow, it was a small scene and everybody was familiar. Matt Tucker’s name came up once or twice but he hadn’t really been in a band (other than the high school program). None of us really knew anything about him.

 

L to R: Matthew Tucker, Christian Adams, Ron Kwasman, Randy Edman
L to R: Matthew Tucker, Christian Adams, Ron Kwasman, Randy Edman circa 1991

It was Mike Daly – Matt’s younger brother, who had played with us a couple of times – that suggested we get in touch with Matt Tucker, who he said was a monster on drums. A few nights later, I was at my girlfriend’s house, we were sitting out on the driveway, when we heard these drums coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. Whoever was playing was really good. I said to my girl, “That can’t be Matt Daly, he’s at Western [Illinois University].” And she said, no, that’s Matt Tucker.

So I went over to his house and knocked on the door, “Hey, is Matt here?” Sue answered and led me to the basement where Matt and his younger brother Mike, who was still in high school – were apparently taking turns on the kit. I dunno know. Anyway, Matt and I talked for a while and he agreed to give it a shot. It was never an audition or anything. He played for a few minutes and I said something like, “If you’re in, let’s do it.”

Over the next 15 years, the bands changed names or members, but Matt remained on drums. Idiot Savants became Nine Voice which morphed into Brain Kiss, Whitey and Golden Tones.

When I moved out to S.F., Matt followed a month later and we continued with Henry Miller Sextet. During this time, we’ve played [I’m guessing] 150-200 shows and with very few exceptions, if you disregard the fact that we played to empty rooms 90 percent of the time, those shows were always triumphant. At the very least, we were happy with the way we played.

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Nine Voice circa 1989. L to R: Matt Tucker, Christian Adams, Ronnie Kwasman, Randy Edman

Within the first three years of playing in a band with Matt, I noticed a pattern. Most of the bands we shared bills with were pretty cool, and even if they weren’t, we treated them like they were anyway. After our set, once the gear was secured off-stage, we’d head back out into the bar and say hi to our moms or girlfriends or whoever came to the gig. This is the point when dudes from the other bands would intercede and say, “Hey man, great set. You guys rocked.” Without variation, I’d reply with thanks, good luck and I’m looking forward to your set as well. Nine out ten times, they would reply, “Yeah, listen. Where the fuck did you find that drummer?”

Matt was adored by every studio engineer we ever worked with for a bunch of reasons – mainly that the kid was indeed a fantastic drummer, and as an engineer, I can confirm that we love that – but one detail in particular always impressed them. Matt knows how to tune the drums. This is very important. People don’t really understand this, but the drum sound starts with the skins. Meanwhile, Matt also played with other bands on the Chicago scene. He was in demand.

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Matt at Tiny Telephone, S.F., 2001

Personally, Matt and I have been through a lot together; we’ve become brothers. We have been through some shit, my friends. It’s been awesome. He’s a co-godfather of my son and I have been dubbed an honorary member of the Tucker clan for a decade or more and counting. We were roommates from 1997-2003. Though HMS decided to hang it up, nothing changed between us. We’re still brothers. In fact, as part of a much longer story arc, when I left S.F. for Taiwan, it was Matt who took over my old apartment. I was only supposed to be gone two months – six at the most. He was there for five years!

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Whitey circa 1996. Matt in center.

Matt was going to play drums on the first Aztec Hearts record, Dying For You to Hear This (2006), but I really wanted to do them myself. Please understand that I knew Matt would have done a much better job. Though I had opportunities to play drums in the past, I hadn’t been possessed with wanting to really play them in 20 years. At that time, it was something I really wanted to do. Christ, had it been 20 years since I played every day?! So we jawboned about it and Matt encouraged me to go ahead and do it myself – also letting me use his kit and making sure it was tuned up prior to the sessions.

That was a great experience and one I will remember for the rest of my life. However, when it came around to making a second record, I didn’t have the same verve for playing drums. So I called Matt and asked him to come down and cut some drum tracks. He hadn’t heard much if any of the material, and that was a little bit of a concern. It was a deviation from the way we’d worked in the past, bashing things out in the practice space. Anyway, it was a cakewalk for him and we had a good time.

Movie Frame
Henry Miller Sextet circa 2003

Matt played on the majority of Bigger Brighter Faster Worse (2008) including the original version of “Mountains of Honey”, and the song you are about to hear, “In the Spirit of Almost”, which had the working title of “If I’m Going to Hell (See You There)” and didn’t get finished because (A) I couldn’t come up with any lyrics and (B) the studio got shut down.

The drums were tracked using two Shure 57s and a Rode NT-1A.

All of the vocals and some of the keyboard were recorded here in Taipei.

In the Spirit of Almost feat. Matt Tucker

 

In the late spring of 2000, Matt and I had a flat we shared with one other dude in the Richmond District. One day, Matt came home with a kitten and we named him Mao-jai, which is purportedly Cantonese for ‘boy cat’. At some point it became Mao, or Mao-mao, or simply The Kid. We raised Mao together and two years later when I moved into a new joint to be closer to school, Mao came with me. A year later, I moved to the infamous crib in the Sunset, which is where Mao really started to flourish. Ultimately, in early 2008, I made light of my desire to travel in Asia for a few months.

When I decided to check out, I wasn’t worried about money or finding a job. My biggest, number one, overriding concern was: “Who’s going to take care of Mao?” Of course, Matt was still considered co-custodian, and this was one of the selling points when I approached him about taking over my apartment. First and foremost, it was about Mao.

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Mao aka The Kid

All in all, the deal looked to be a win-win for everybody. Matt was looking forward to getting out of Nob Hill and living near the beach. Plus, he would get to be with Mao again. Since we really weren’t sure how long I would be gone, Matt committed to a minimum six-month stay. Mao was also a winner because he got to keep his backyard kingdom and reconnect with his old pal Matt.

I was looking forward to my Asian adventure with peace of mind that Mao would be in good hands. Like the majority of pet owners, Mao was more than just a cat to me, and I was more than just an owner to him. We were friends. We could have conversations. We understood each other. I loved Mao as much as I loved anything in my life.

Mao had almost always been an indoor-outdoor cat. Even as a youngster, we let him out to prowl around the backyard, and later with me – as a pair of swinging bachelors – he existed more as a dog than a cat. He came and went as he pleased, but curled up with me on the bed every night. In the Sunset cave, the back door was rigged to give him 24/7 access, so I rarely had to call for him – or get up to let him out at sunrise. Most nights, he’d see the lights come on and hear me moving around and he’d come bolting in, all meow-meow this and meow-meow that. He had grown into a big boy and could take care of himself against the raccoons, too. He was living The Dream out there. The Kid was the happiest cat you ever saw.

In mid-March 2008, I began simultaneously preparing for my trip and making room for Matt to move in. My landlord let me use the garage as storage, so it wasn’t a massive ordeal, but I had eight years worth of junk stuffed into a two-year box. There were several late-night “drops” at the corner of 48th and Moraga. At the same time, I was selling a bunch of non-essential music equipment on Craigslist, and that was way more time-consuming than I thought it would be. We were trying to make the transition as seamless as possible, but U-haul was going to be involved, no doubt.

IM000515.JPGCats like routine just as much as the next guy and Mao took notice of the activity at the crib. Stuff was disappearing, things were getting moved around. He definitely wasn’t thrilled, but he had rolled with the changes in the past, and he didn’t seem…concerned. Just because he was pissed didn’t mean he was going to sleep on the back porch in protest.

On the evening of March 19, 2008, I returned home from my shift just before midnight, and went about my routine. While I was in the shower, I thought it was a little strange that Mao hadn’t come home already. He usually came in to greet me within a minute or two of arrival. Every now and then he’d be prowling and wouldn’t get back until lights out, but for the most part, he was just chilling in the backyard, guarding his turf. On the nights he came in late, he was always real talkative after those excursions. Anyway, Mao didn’t come home that night. Again, it wasn’t the first time and I wasn’t freaked out. It was just a little odd.

mao1Then next morning when Mao still hadn’t come home, I was definitely concerned. Something wasn’t right.

For the next week I was nearly unable to sleep. Every night I would get home from work and circle the block, calling Mao’s name. Every morning I would get up and canvas the neighborhood, knocking on doors. “Have you seen this cat?” I put up fliers, jumped over fences, and followed every trail he might have been on. Actually, Mao was a lot more popular than I thought. He was notorious in the backyards of the block. Everybody had seen Mao – many times – they just hadn’t seen him in a while.

A week turned into two. Heartbroken beyond anything I’d ever experienced, I mourned Mao in private on a nightly basis. He was gone and I would probably never know what happened to him. It was too late to back out of the trip. It was hopeless. Matt moved in on March 31 and we both acknowledged the irony. The main reason he moved in was Mao, and now Mao was gone. It was bittersweet. The wheel had been set in motion and there was no turning back.

***

Six years ago tomorrow (April 7), I boarded a flight in San Francisco bound for Taipei, Taiwan, on a 60-day visa with an open-ended return ticket. There were no expectations. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized that I probably wouldn’t be coming back – except to visit and wrangle with personal business. Who knows? Maybe someday.

Technically, I have been a resident of California since 1999, though I haven’t been present since 2008. Nevertheless, I have a storage space in S.F. and my driver’s license lists an address in L.A; most of my friends are there, the few that I have left; and when I think of going “home”, I think of S.F. From the moment I arrived, I knew it was the place I had always wanted to be.

California was relatively good to me for the first eight years. It gave me a college degree and many interesting and often rewarding work experiences. The quality of my life improved dramatically. S.F. in particular used to be a magical place, and I feel lucky that I got to live there before the Google occupation. I used to say that I never worked a day in California because every day was like vacation to me.

The only time I dreaded going to work was in the very early days when I got a gig in construction. It was one of those deals where you actually appreciate how bad it was because you’re forced to find another gig, ASAP. Today, I have fond memories of hauling four sheets of ¼ inch plywood, up a rickety ladder on the second floor of a three-flat in 25 mph winds. Good times.

Otherwise, even when I messed up and got in trouble, nothing in California could possibly be any worse than it would be back in Illinois. At the end of any argument, I would always counter with, “Yeah, but the sunshine.” There is no substitute for a beautiful blue-sky day with a light breeze off the Pacific. For many years, I scoffed at the idea of living anywhere else. Why would you? That’s crazy.

The first time I visited Chris Lanier in S.F., one of the first places he took me was to get a burrito at 16th and Mission. He was like, so what do you think so far? And I said, “It’s Disneyland…for junkies and crackheads!”

Somewhere along the way, California turned on me. Or maybe I unknowingly violated one of the unspoken rules. The magical journey became something of a nightmare. Of course, I am not blaming the state for ruining my life; quite the contrary. There was a point – one crystaline moment – when I was walking up Van Ness and I started humming a melody that went something like: “California/Why’d you leave me?” The magical feeling had disappeared. The love had turned to something else.

 

Chef Eric
Chef Eric

My last year in S.F., despite the comedy of errors and the tragedy of wasted opportunity, wasn’t that bad. It was quietly accepted that it was time to leave California – if not, things wouldn’t end well. After quitting one gig and going back to where I’d been working for six years – my quality of life did improve. Over Labor Day, long after I’d shut down the studio, we roasted a 200-pound pig in the backyard to be served at the company picnic. Yep. The chef of the restaurant put the whole thing together. My joint smelled like pork and pig for two weeks after that.

Anyway, I had to get out of there. Several years earlier, I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be waiting tables at 40.

“Right Now You’re Feeling Me” is my California song.

Right Now You’re Feeling Me

 

The first few weeks in Taipei, I was running purely on adrenaline. Within a month I had found a job and a place to live. Things were moving along. Many times I wondered about Mao and several times I cried in private. Meanwhile, I was in fairly constant email contact with Matt and my friends back in S.F. Everybody was really excited for me.

By mid-May 2008, I was over the culture shock and already looking for a different job and place to live. Things were shaking up. On the morning of May 16, I received an email from Matt with the subject heading: Dude You Won’t Fucking Believe It!

When I first saw the heading amongst the other messages, I had a couple of random micro-thoughts. One, something like the house burned down. Two, he won the lottery. Three, one of our friends died. By the grace of God I was wrong. Mao had come home. Nearly two months from his initial disappearance, Matt said that The Kid came in through the back door, meowing intensely. He looked to be in good condition but he had lost a considerable bit of weight.

menmao
Back together again, 2011

Over the next few weeks, Matt took Mao to the vet and nursed him back to health. He was back to normal in time for summer.

He’s getting up there in years, but Mao is still going strong. He still lives with Matt in the Outer Sunset, living the good life. They both are. That makes me real happy, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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