Friday, February 17, 2006

Thinking About Jon

From about 1976 to about 1987 I had the goal of being a professional musican. You know, the Big Time. From my point-of-view, there was no better way to make a living than to do what I loved and be loved for it, and made rich in the process.

It didn’t happen.

Along the way, I made some of the best friends, and had some of the best times of my life. I don’t regret trying. You get one chance in life. You don’t want to wake up at 40, shackled to a boring job with a mortgage and the vestiges of a dream unfulfilled, with that old Brando line as your mantra: “I coulda been a contenda!”

I was thinking about one of those friends, and I dug up something that I’d written about him two days after his tragic death in August of 2000. I thought I’d share that today, and end with one of my favorite songs from that era.

Last night, I was feeling relaxed after an early evening bath.
The kids were relatively quiet, the television was tuned to “The Antiques Road Show,” and my wife was dozing on the couch with her feet in my lap. The telephone rang. I walked over and noticed on the Caller-ID “Unknown Name / Unknown Number.” I picked it up, and a distraught voice that I didn’t recognize croaked,

”Al LaCarte?”


”This is Jon’s friend, Billy.”


”There has been a terrible accident. He’s gone, man.”

Jon was a landscaper, and a fine one. Billy went on to explain
that Jon had been stung by a bee. He had mentioned this to his crew, warning them to stay away from a particular bush. He walked around to the rear of the residence and never returned. He was later found lying on the ground unconscious. The ambulance came. Jon was pronounced dead at the hospital.

I first met Jon back in 1983. I was between bands. My
previous band had crashed and burned in 1981. The concept behind that one was a hybrid of Steely Dan, The Beatles, and progressive rock. We thought we were clever; the people who heard us play held an entirely different opinion. Our songs were complicated, riddled with odd time signatures and abrupt changes in tempo. The music was fun to play from a musician’s standpoint, but the record companies (and club audiences) couldn’t have been less interested.

I had decided to start a band with a different concept. I wanted
to play songs that people could like on first listen. My goal was to record a new-wave “With The Beatles” as our debut album, where every track was a potential single. Lofty, I know, but I was young! My brother, who was one of the songwriters and a driving force behind my previous band, had been jamming with a new drummer and keyboard-player / vocalist. We decided to join forces. That
keyboard-player / vocalist was Jon.

Our band, The Balance (not the semi-famous one we didn’t know at the time that the name had already been used,) went through many changes, and finally broke up in 1987. In retrospect, it is easy to see the fatal flaw of that band: You can’t deliberately set out to play “commercial” music. Good music comes from the heart, not from a desire to be a “rich and famous ROCK STAR!.” As a recording engineer once said to us in all sincerity during a session, “I don’t get it. You guys love the music of XTC and Peter Gabriel. What are you doing trying to play Top 40?”

We both married and started families. He continued to write and
play music with my brother, but he and I would seldom see each other again. Still, we would find time to call and talk about music, especially when a new XTC album was released.

For the last few years, Jon, my brother and I began to share a
dream. We dreamed a dream whose seeds had been planted by The Beatles so many years ago with the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” We dreamed of a place and a time where we could write, arrange and record songs that we loved, regardless of their commercial potential, with total creative freedom. We dreamed of doing this for no reason except for our love of music. We dreamed a dream that was made possible by today’s inexpensive recording technology, but unlikely due to the constraints that
we had placed upon ourselves: our careers, families, mortgages and the fact that we lived hundreds of miles apart. We dreamed of a day when we could be like our heroes, XTC. We dreamed a dream that died the day before yesterday.

Click here to listen to "You Say Green," by MT Vanus recorded in 1983, featuring Jon on vocals and keys, MT on guitar, Larry on drums and The Viscount on the bass.


Anonymous blue girl said...

I'm sorry about your friend.

3:14 PM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

Good attitude, life is best lived without regrets. And if you never became a contender, does it really matter? Life is experience.

Sorry about Jon. There are no words to describe loss, that dreadful gnawing absence of someone.

I get a smile out of the song though, (the synth patches take me back), and at least you have the songs to remember him by.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

At least Jon is missed by someone who gives a damn and is able to convey that.

Thanks for the music.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

Sad to hear of your loss, V. I had a good buddy die at the age of 26. Dropped dead of a heart attack. Had some valve problem. The doctors even knew about it, but he had been told he wouldn't need an operation until he was 30. He had just settled into a new life in Alaska. Married, 6-month old son. Died pulling a snowmobile off a trailer. Lost another friend to that bee allergy thing too, but at least he was 52. Again, my sympathies, and also to his family if you see them. (Nice song, btw.)

6:41 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Thanks for your kind comments.

9:04 PM  

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