Monday, October 11, 2010
Tim Vega (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 8)
(Me & Tim, Mercer Street, 1986)
If it wasn't for Tim Vega, I may still be listening to Ratt or worse, continuing to declare Charlie Parker a hack. I was thick and naive in my early twenties. Tim, though 18 months younger, seemed to make all that I knew about music feel insignificant, and did so without ever condescending to me. My uncles, cousins and friends all had a very important part in exposing music of all genres to me, one very lucky kid. But it was Tim Vega's attention to the beauty of detail and his bottomless desire for more, that taught me that there is always more than meets the ear.
I first met Tim in 1984. We were both employed by the same company, though we worked at different locations. Our boss thought we'd get along, so he transferred Tim uptown. There was a rather obvious musical connection. I was a musician playing in a band and his sister Suzanne was about to release her first record.
When he arrived at the midtown location from the Greenwich Village shop, he and I hit it off immediately. He was a playful bear, without an ounce of cynicism in his body, or at least he didn't wear it on his sleeve like I did. He managed to take the piss out of someone without ever coming across as mean. I hated everything and everyone and did not have the ability, however hard I tried, to reel it in when necessary. I was a funny guy, but I was the bad guy even when I didn't mean to be. I was a smart guy, but Tim was smarter.
Everyone liked Tim.
The days at CopyRight were spent doing what we had been getting paid to do, lots of collating, but a good part of our 9-5 was spent hovering around the stereo system, previewing each other's recent mixed tape for our customers, our co-workers and each other. Our boss was a good guy, and somehow believed his little chain of stores would benefit from having the two of us at one location. My guess is that he felt safer having the chaos all under one roof where he could keep a watchful eye on his two prize employees. (I'd also like to mention, that same boss, paid for my drum kit so I could play my first gig with Pep In The Cat.) These days at work, laughing and comparing notes on everyone from John Lennon and David Bowie to Eric Dolphy, The Clash and Motorhead, turned into a friendship, that for five years found us inseparable.
Every night was the same, mostly spent at my apartment on Mercer Street, drinking "tall boys," getting stoned and listening to records. It was during this run when I first heard Miles' "Sketches Of Spain," Herbie Hancock's "Speak Like A Child," and R.E.M.'s "Life's Rich Pageant." Tim had them all. My one "jazz" album was Bill Bruford's first solo release "Feels Good To Me." What did I know? It was instrumental so to me, it was jazz. I wasn't completely useless. Tim got a kick out of "The Diary Of Horace Wimp" by ELO, and though Tim had known a bit about John Cale through Suzanne, he hadn't really heard much of his music. So I contributed with Cale's "Helen Of Troy" and "Honi Soit." My Zappa collection, as well as some of my 60's Brit Invasion stuff, also made Tim happy, as did getting really high and watching "Baby Snakes" on the USA network's, "Night Flight," the greatest television show ever. I still don't think I have ever laughed so hard and so long.
(Tim, Mercer Street, 1985)
Often, Suzanne would call, though she never sounded as if she was calling my house looking for Tim. I'd come home and there'd be a message, "Tim, got you and Sal on the guest list for John Cale at the Bottom Line," or, "Tim, meet me at the side entrance of the Shubert Theatre by 7:30. I go on at 8:10. Bring Sal, if you want." He spent so much time at my house, maybe she thought he lived there and I was just visiting. One night she called and played a new song for him over the phone. I just stood there. You couldn't say much to Tim regarding Suzanne, so I didn't.
Tim didn't just listen to music the way young people listened to music. It was a constant journey for him, where even a 3 minute pop song may have the potential to be as important as a two month trek across Europe. He'd always look for something more, and that something often found him.
There's a moment in "Christine Sixteen," a song by Kiss, where right at the end of the bridge, Gene Simmons takes a breath or what sounds like a pant, right before singing "WHOA NO!" Tim would lose it at that moment, screaming with joy, "That's so fucking COOL!" And then we'd play that song another 10 times just to hear that 3 second gasp and each time, he'd react the same, smiling hardest on the last go around.
He would never fail to close up like a helpless soul every time he heard "Concierto de Aranjuez" from "Sketches Of Spain." Witnessing that transformation on more than one occasion, led me to do the same, and to this day, that piece of music never fails to move me.
Then there was "Underneath The Bunker," a less than two minute, mostly instrumental tune from R.E.M., where Tim would always, as if he couldn't not, move like some veiled bellydancer, spin dancing, and doing that 60's, go-go move with the peace sign across the eyes; the one Uma Thurman and John Travolta shared in "Pulp Fiction." Tim was a big guy. This was something to behold. It happened every time the song was played and I laughed every time he did it.
He once got so excited, because on a dare, I put on The Stooges "Fun House" at an obnoxious volume, just seconds after our boss's wife told us to turn the music down while she was on the phone. Tim laughed hard and then, as if being manhandled by some sadistic spirit, ran over to the stereo receiver and smacked the power button off with his forehead. That move got more than a few stares. I thought I had only liked that song. After that move, I had a new appreciation for the brilliance of Iggy Pop.
Those visual accents to the already treasured listening hours, made me appreciate the music I had been dismissing for years. Tim taught me to not be afraid of getting inside and out of the music I loved. And while I never shut off my stereo with my forehead, I continue to cherish every guitar solo and vocal harmony, and I did once fling a sneaker directly at my CD player while listening to Aerosmith's "Honkin' On Bobo."
The lessons continued with Tim dragging me to live shows I'd never considered attending before--Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hugo Largo (Hugo Largo?), Jane's Addiction (before we knew why we hated Perry Farrell) and legendary jazz player, Jackie McLean. The moment that really sealed the friendship was the night we first saw Living Colour at Tramps. The band was unsigned at the time, and we really hadn't seen anything of this caliber before. It was Sly & The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin and the Bad Brains all in one band. Between 1984-1987, Tim & I must have seen these guys 20 times, mostly at CBGBs, where we'd end up sitting on top of a speaker stack to the left of the stage, because that was all the room that was left. Those nights, after gallons of beer and more, found us finishing things up by getting a slice of pizza at St. Mark's Pizza, and sitting in the middle of an empty parking lot on Lafayette Street, eating, and trying to dry up before retiring around 3 A.M..
I moved out of my Mercer Street apartment in 1989 to a studio on East 60th between Park & Lex. I don't remember why Tim and I stopped hanging out. Maybe we thought we had grown up. Whatever it was, we lost touch. I tried, with new friends, to recreate the magic that took place listening to music during those 5 years with Tim. It always ended up like that scene in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen tries to stage the spontaneous moment he and Annie had while cooking lobsters with his new, disinterested chick. You try, until you realize it all happened because you weren't trying.
A lot of time had passed since I last saw Tim Vega. I had now owned a CD shop on the Upper West Side, and almost 15 years later, his influence was all over me. I had been hawking the artists and music he first introduced me to with a passion so strong, it was occasionally a turn-off for my business partner and some regulars. A customer once asked me my thoughts on the new Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach CD, and I responded by playing a track and asking him to pay attention to a certain lyric that moved me. He laughed and said, "Okay. Relax." Before Tim, I knew nothing about what had become so important to me. Now, I didn't care what anyone thought. Relax? I wanted to smack this guy's power button with my forehead. Tim would have approved.
One afternoon, I was having a discussion with one of my employees, Jake, about jam bands and how I liked a few, but mostly found it all very aimless and boring. He loved Widespread Panic and would mercilessly play me some live shows he personally taped. My frustration was only trumped by his, as I grimaced and begged for him to take the music off. Tim's name came up, as I recalled how he had designed the album cover for Blues Traveler, as well as the logos for so many other bands, including Gov't Mule. "Oh yeah, I knew Tim," Jake said. "Whattya mean KNEW?" "Yeah dude, Tim died a few weeks ago. Sorry."
Just like that, in the middle of a routine day, tossed off like a lunch order, I found out.
Tim had a very hard time after 9/11. Many of us did. He felt very alone in a city that just a few months earlier, had everything to offer, or at least this is what I was told. I never got any real information on what happened. I can only surmise. Tim was not yet 37.
I don't know how much more I can say about this. The Tim Vega I knew loved life. It had been years, and yet that news hit me harder than I ever could have imagined.
I owe you, Tim.
TIM VEGA'S WEBSITE