In “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” with impending doom, Keira Knightly’s character grabs several records before fleeing her home with the hopes of listening to them one last time. The Essentials is an ongoing series about the ten, in no particular order, albums I would grab in such a similar situation.
It was slightly more than two years ago when Tony Sly passed away. His death really got to me, more so than any other death of someone I didn’t personally know. It took me some time to really understand why.
Tony’s band, No Use For a Name (NUFAN), was your basic SoCal, skate-punk, Fat band. I remember them being prominent in my early punk rock life. I enjoyed them enough on the Fat Music compilations, even going so far as buying the album Leche Con Carne. But the album got little airplay from me. It wasn’t that they were a bad band, there was just something missing. They got relegated from a “must listen to” band to “whenever I’m listening to a comp they’re on” band. The exception to this was the song “Soulmate” which I listened to plenty and found its way to a couple mixes I made back in the day.
Then they came to town, with the Mad Caddies supporting them. Jon, Keith, and I went mainly to see the Caddies, but stuck around because why not. During this show at the tiny venue known as the Bluebird Theater, I found myself at the front of the crowd, against the stage, rocking out to the few NUFAN songs I did know. Guitarist Dave Nessie stepped on my head, because you know, punk rock, oi! I want to say this show revitalized my interest in the band, and it did slightly. Mostly I just like having the memory of Dave Nessie stepping on my head, and wanted to share that.
It was years later and I was at a turning point in my life. I was living in Fort Collins with no plans for my future, a close friend was moving out of state, and my colitis wasn’t yet diagnosed but was making its presence known. These things were all contributing to some mild insomnia. During this time I found comfort in three things: the friendship supplied by Justine, the music video for Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” (I saw it for the first time at like 2 in the morning and I was mesmerized and felt this incredible calm just wash over me), and the NUFAN album Hard Rock Bottom.
I had just recently bought the album while trying to find something new yet familiar. The song “Friends of the Enemy” is on Fat Music Vol. 6: Uncontrollable Fatulence, and I really enjoyed it, mostly due to its great bass line. Something I often did in my youth was buy compilation albums, find a song I like then buy the album that song was originally found on. Sometimes this worked against me, but in the case of Hard Rock Bottom it was the exact and wonderful opposite.
It was clear right away this album rocks. Rory Koff is one of my favorite drummers in punk rock and I think he just gets better with each record and he slays on this one. But what really grabbed me was how melodic this rocking record was. The blazing speed of the double bass pedal and the thrashing of the typical distorted guitars was mixed with a sense of melody and it’s incredible. I was used to NUFAN’s basic skate punk sound, but this album showed they could write music like real professionals.
Then there was the real capper: the lyrics. This album is filled with songs about being alone or being away from loved ones. Tony Sly was able to capture exactly what I was feeling and, as usual, he would do it with more articulation and eloquence than I could ever hope to achieve.
The expressive lyrics, the frantic punk rock, and the melodic undertones made this album perfect soundtrack for that time in my life. I spent many a night letting it be the lullaby to ease me to sleep. It was exactly what I needed and I knew right then that it was one of the records I would often return to.
So I go back to the question of why the death of this man I never knew affected me so much and I know it’s because I was able to have this intimate relationship with him with every spin of the record. In addition to this album being a bright spot in cloudy part of my life, it also serves as a bittersweet eulogy to a great American poet, and for that it is in my essentials collection.