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My heroes of local music
A highly subjective rambling
By DA Fisher
Fort Wayne Reader
Two weeks ago I became the reluctant owner of my very first personal computer. It's black, it sounds like it's made of running fans and it folds in half. If it's not plugged into a wall socket it dies in less than four minutes. You have to pound the space bar or else the thing doesn't respond. If the screen isn't at just the right angle, you can't see the websites and the box scores. Not only is this computer old and used up, but it hardly works. And I like that about it. Also, at some point someone decorated the thing with a Drag City sticker. Yeah, I like that too.
How did a guy who doesn't own a kitchen table or toaster — a guy who lives only with the bottle — come to own such a space-aged piece of machinery such as this?
I'd been hanging around a smart younger female who likes local rock n' roll music and liked (note the tense) me because at times I've tried my hand at writing about the sometimes great local rock n' roll music scene in this pissant town. Said younger femme - a brunette with blue eyes and much to learn - enjoys the sounds of Wooden Satellites and rowdy nights with the End Times Spasm Band suits, Thunderhawk and Elephants In Mud alike.
For some reason this old gal liked Dumb Ass Fisher a whole lot for about two weeks. When she first stepped through the doorway of my apartment she didn't run the other way, and so, for the bulk of that first week, I liked what she brought through the door.
Sometime towards the end of that first sweaty week the little lady started loosening up - eventually getting to the point in her comfort zone where she suddenly felt it necessary to first tell me her secrets and then make me a better person. Ha. When we first started she came through the door with a quiet mouth and the kind of expensive beer I don't normally keep the company of. Before the second weekend the girl brought me a book I'd read almost 20 years prior ("you should really read this," she said with a serious look on her face) and then, eventually, she gave me this old beast of a computer. Saul, I call him. Saul Bellow.
"You'll need this. You've got a book in you," she said with the kind of smile I've never ever enjoyed from anyone. The kind of look that says "Hey baby, this is a big moment in your life that I'm giving you, because I know what's best." It was at that moment that I stopped liking the woman with the tattooed top parts. And it was when she finally came through the door with clippers and a big idea for how I should cut my beard that I took her back down to her car. Me: woody and mad. Her: clueless and clawing. That the tiger hasn't yet asked me to return Saul Bellow says something about me. Or about Saul. Or maybe about both of us. And certainly about her.
After two days of staring at — and ashing on — Saul's folded black body I finally plugged in and opened him up. The little lady had taught me how to locate the white screens that you type the magical words into, as well as how to secretly borrow Internet from the old woman in the apartment next to mine. I'd never owned a Saul before, but I'd spent much time with such machines at odd jobs and libraries, so I knew a thing or two about spying, one-way arousal and wasted time. And so my nighttime schedule suddenly changed. Rather than drinking and listening to Songs of Love and Hate while looking out my window or reading, I started — for the first time in my life — spending big hours on the Internet. This, of course, while drinking and listening to "Dress Rehearsal Rag" on repeat.
At first I looked at photos of women and read details about films and painters and foreign cities. Eventually - and possible only out of guilt - I started reading about local music and local music culture. Between Facebook and MySpace and all the different local web and print archives, I'd absorbed all that I could stand. I learned the names of all the big modern players and all the things they've done. The more I read the more impressed I was with all these hopeful lowlifes. Sure, 99% of this town is of no interest to me or anyone else with an original thought. Suburbanites who fill their souls with reality television, fast food, Jesus-y stuff and gossip own this place — that's the reality. But the 1% who create and/or support the arts - be it the good arts or the questionable arts - impress me to no end. Not because they have good taste or because they're rewriting the book, but because they seem to care more about music and film and fine art and literature than what you'll find in other Midwest markets of similar sizes. There must be a love for pain, rejection and longing running through all that dirty brown water that fills our rivers.
And so I made a list of some of my favorite local heroes. The people who are currently putting their money and their time and their energy where their gobbers are. Not so much the writers who cover the activities, because they're pricks. I know this much. And not really the capitalists or even the musicians. The movers. The shakers. The balls-y folks who make the good times happen because they have that age old drive to improve their community. The real bastards of young. The sons of no one.
And so Saul and I got to work, reading and typing and thinking about all these punks and all the things they've done. Sure, if you're a part of the worthwhile original music community here in Fort Wayne, you already know these people and what they've done. And so maybe this incredible piece of birdcage liner I'm typing up isn't for you. But let's say you're just some average asshole sitting at Cebolla's, reading the Fort Wayne Reader to pass time while you wait for your table and salivate over the thought of a 3,000 calorie meal that only costs nine bones. For you fat, oblivious cats out there, reading this brilliant article on accident, here are just a few of the people you should know about. Because, unlike you, they're working to make this place a little more interesting.
Matt Kelley - After reading endlessly about Matt Kelley, I could hardly believe that the man hasn't yet met his backlash. From my experiences, men like this — who do so much so well and so consistently — typically have hordes of empty-headed haters. Not Matt. In fact, Matt doesn't just have fans and friends, he has believers. This because he's selfless and hardworking. He books incredible shows that feature some of the best bands in the world; he helps others achieve their dream projects; he designs beautiful posters and shirts and album art; and he used to play some pretty good original music. Other stuff, too. There's not enough room on these pages to cover the Kells. He's Fort Wayne's own Bruce Springsteen - an intelligent, hard working leader whose value glows brighter when you look a little closer.
R. Mike Horan and Brad Etter — Unlike most of the people on this list, Mike and Brad are full grown men with most of their lives behind them. R is bald, bearded and apathetic, and was supposedly riding his bike everywhere before the two-wheel wave came in. Brad is tall and thin, and he smiles a lot and - I'm told - has a lot of experience in the music industry. I'm not sure if these two guys know each other, but they have a lot in common. They both book some of the best shows in town, bring to our city bands that wouldn't otherwise play in a market like Fort Wayne. They bring the bands that they love and they lose money on shows simply because they want to share what they care about with the people they care about. Brad likes folks-y songwriter types with incredible voices and R likes garage-y noisemakers types who never learned how to sing. Both have excellent taste. Saul likes these guys, both.
Johnny Commorato, Jr. and Corey Radar — These two old friends (one a streetwise poet, the other a computer guy with the best music taste in town) changed the local music scene - for the better - more than anyone else in town has. Ever. And absolutely. They purchased the Brass Rail a few years ago and have been growing the place into a shelter for art-loving lowlife-types ever since. The rockers. The punks. The pricks. More than 90% of the best shows in Fort Wayne have taken place on the Brass Rail's charming little stage since JCJ and Radar took over five or so years ago. Also, the best of our local musicians have found a place to call home, where they can open for their heroes and perfect their stagecraft. Within the walls of JCJ and Radar's building is where the scene currently thrives - even if far too many assholes frequent the place only to smoke cigarettes out back, be scene/seen and chase tail. So it goes.
Morrison Agen and Anthony Fanger - Morrison owns one of the Midwest's best vinyl shops, Neat Neat Neat Records & Music, has played with Jon Keller and Wooden Satellites and has worked on booking shows around town. In addition to booking some of Fort Wayne's hippest shows at the above mentioned Rail, Anthony owns and operates the only worthwhile record label this city has ever seen, Chainsmoking Records. These two dudes spend a lot of time together at the Neat Neat Neat building on South Calhoun Street, as it's also the site of Fanger's Chainsmoking Records office. Together they help out some of our best local bands in ways that no one was helping bands in this town before. And they have plans. Big plans. Or so I'm told.
Jake Farris - I'm not sure if Jake is into rock n' roll music or not, but I know that he has some fine taste in hip-hop music and ink. He owns the two Studio 13 tattoo shops, as well as Conspiracy, this town's hippest men's street clothing boutique. At Conspiracy Farris hosts local art shows and books free hip-hop shows. He gives skaters, hip-hop heads and punks alike a place to gear up and believe in. And he booked both Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Souls of Mischief for free shows. The only thing to ask is: What will Jake Farris do next? Book Kool Keith? Black Moon? Open a music venue of his own? Build a locally-produced line of pro skate gear?
Jason Davis and Geoff Montgomery - Without these two record producers / studio owners, many of Fort Wayne's best albums wouldn't sound nearly as good as they do. Jason owns and produces records at Off the Cuff Sound, an analog studio that I'm told is possibly the best 2,000 or so square feet in Indiana. Jason supposedly has incredible gear and knowledge, as well as a vinyl collection that could have made John Peel shiver. And he's got great hair and writes some great songs of his own. Geoff owns and produces records at The Ensomberoom - a comfortable little basement studio on the Southwest side of town. Both guys keep busy working with some of the area's best music-makers while also crafting records of their own.
Bob Roets and Tim Hogan - The two longest running local music institutions around who aren't named Richard Reprogle. Bob owns the Wooden Nickel music stores and manages the three-store chain's flagship location on N. Clinton Street. Tim runs one of my favorite places in this city, the Wooden Nickel collector's shop at 3422 N. Anthony Boulevard, and tells great stories and plays great music. Bob puts together some great in-store shows and almost always has all the new releases I so feverishly desire on an ASAP basis. Chances are, you already know these guys and you know Wooden Nickel; if not, well, shame on you. Get back to your nachos and your TiVo.
Michael Patterson, Jon Ross, Bart Helms and Zach Smith — These four guys are players. Studs. Men of great hair. The guys who fill-in, join up, haul amps and - when they need to - lead the way. They all play in multiple bands and have musician resumes that are more Kavalier & Clay than The Old Man and the Sea. I could list all the bands they've been in and are currently in, or all the great talents they collaborated with, or all the records they've play on or helped record. But no, there's not enough space on the page. And Saul Bellow is tired and thirsty. And so am I.
Why not write about more musicians you ask? Easy: because, compared most of the people mentioned above, the best musicians in this city are already swimming in ink. And because they already get the girls. Use 'em up and spit 'em out. Saul Bellow and I are ready for the scraps. Now hiring, and please bring gifts. Preferably things I can pawn.