Saturday, October 20, 2007


If you head southeast about 20 minutes past Carbondale, Ill. you can’t miss a terrifying giant smiley face looming over beautiful wooded valleys. This marks the road into Makanda, a town with about 4 houses along the railroad tracks. It’s Karen Duffy’s (owner of Duff’s Restaurant) home town. On the other side of the tracks were 2 buildings. There was a post office (which made Makanda an official town) and a small recording studio.

The owner/engineer of the studio was a guy named Carl Stein. He looked and had the exact demeanor of Otto, the bus driver on The Simpsons. He had a 12 track Skully tape deck and his reverb was a cinder block building with 2 microphones and 2 speakers. It was the best sounding reverb I’ve ever worked with.

In 1980 we recorded our first full LP here. We had already recorded and released 2 EPs at Oliver Sain’s studio with Oliver as engineer. It occurred to me later that his studio was called Archway and skydiving began for me at Archway Skydiving.

The LP was called Distances. I think it had something to do with the great distances we were willing to travel to save a few bucks in the studio.

We'd have great marathon sessions and then camp in our cars. Occasionally we’d have to stop for a passing train. We brought a lot of friends there and even recorded a party. If you can find the record, the party is featured in “Annie’s Premise”.

On December 8th we received a phone call in the middle of a session. I don’t remember who called but I think all they said was “John’s dead” and then hung up. We ran out to our cars and turned on the radio. Every station was playing John Lennon songs. We were paralyzed. The session was over. Carl said,” what’s the matter with you guys? Let’s go!” We just glared at him.

The song “This City” has a part with several televisions. We recorded the announcement of Steve McQueen’s death and it’s on the record.

Fojammi wasn’t in the band yet but he added synth parts to a few of the tracks. He was also working on his own project. I was crazy about his song writing and was trying to work him into the band.

He and I would stay after everyone else went home. I would mix our record then we’d work on his. He would ride shotgun home with me to make sure I wouldn’t fall asleep on the road. He was just the right height to prop his legs in the wheel well of my van and suspend himself horizontally so he could pee out the window. It was a long drive home and we didn’t want to stop.

One morning getting into town after sunrise, I snuck into my girlfriend Lora’s apartment with the intention of crawling into her bed for a well deserved sleep. There was Tracy (our bassist) snoring as loud as could in my spot. I was too tired to be hurt and crawled off to the couch. I woke up to the two of them sitting on the end of the couch insisting nothing had happened. I used the incident for psychological leverage but I believed them. We really were all like family and if it had to be anyone it might as well be Tracy.


dominic schaeffer said...

I was at a party Tracy and Burt were having when John was murdered. You were in Makanda? It was a Monday night and "the football game" was on the teevee and all the jocks started yelling at the screen and Tracy looked over to see an anouncer guy standing in front of The Dakota and screamed at everyone to shut up and turned the volume up. We were stunned. But the jocks kept saying "fuck that- let's see the game". Oy!

"Distances" was named that because the music sounded desolate and lonely. Kinda the way I felt at the time i composed it.

Doggie said...

I thought you guys were with me. That's were I was.

paycheck said...

I was riding in a car with Don Green of the Retros and Alissa Fienberg of the Oui Oui Twins when it came over the radio. It was just pure shock until they let me off at the slum I lived in, which we all know as the OP-P club on Olive. I walked into the club through the shadows alone back to the stage where all our gear was set up for band practice.

I saw my Vox amp and busrt into tears. That stupid Vox amp. It just forced me to realize how much a part of me the Beatles were and always would be.

Koop DeGrouse said...

hey yeah I sleeping with Lora that night, I think it was Halloween and nothing happened except sleep...damnit and for the record I was in Makanda for sure on 12/08/80. I went out side all alone and punched Benets van a few times (sorry Benet). It hurt my hand but didnt do a thing to his van. I'm a weak person, the only thing I can carry is a grudge.

rico said...

i was in boot camp at the time, i had received a letter from tammy the day before breaking up with me because she found out id been screwing josie while we were living together before i went into the navy. i was heartbroken on both accounts and all these black dudes from detroit were asking me "who dis John Lennon dude" and i tried to explain