My earliest memory of Alex is at Troy’s house. We were auditioning a drummer, Alex’s little brother Chris, for our new nameless and singer-less band. It was Troy and I on guitars, our friend Russ on bass, and we were hoping Chris would soon be joining us on drums. It was early evening and the sun had just gone down when the Lugo brothers arrived. We set up all our gear in the driveway….Troy lived in an area with bigger lots, so it wasn’t like the neighbors were right there, though they had to have heard us. Not something we were concerned about. Anyway, Russ knew Alex’s girlfriend from work, and at some point they talked and drums were mentioned, so there we were. The thing was, Chris was a few years younger than us, still in high school, and a bit shy to step up and start jamming. So Alex sat down and started playing like it was nothing. I remember immediately wondering why we were auditioning Chris and not Alex. He seemed to know what he was doing. But Chris finally came around, and we had our new drummer. Still have the tape from that first session.
I forget how long we played together with this lineup, but I think we only had a couple gigs the whole time, the most memorable being at Troy and Russ’ church where they told us to turn our instruments down midway through our first couple songs, which were all we ended up playing. The congregation just wasn’t ready for our brand of holy rock.
The Lugo’s house on Cimarron Road pretty much became my second home. It’s always the drummer’s house. They’re usually the ones with the coolest parents, or else they probably wouldn’t be playing drums in the first place. So we jammed it out there on a regular basis, instrumentally though, because none of us had the balls to sing. Alex was always around, too, covering the 80s like he so loved to do. (We had this running joke that I hated the Cure, and they were one of his favorites. I, however, did not hate the Cure, but was just not into them as much as he was. He still gave me shit, though. All the time.) And you could tell he wanted to be playing with us. Petty band politics as they are, we eventually dropped Russ from bass duties. And that opened the door.
Alex and I had a complicated relationship. As anyone who knows me will confirm, I tend to take myself way too seriously at times…meaning all of the time. Alex was pretty much the polar opposite. But what I perceived in him was somebody who really wanted to fit in. He went through phase after phase of style and trend, something that to me said he was too insecure with just being himself. So being the egomaniacal control freak that I was…ok, am…I was leery about him joining the band, no matter how good he was. It’s not like anyone else was pawing at the prospect of being in our supergroup, though, and so Alex was in.
Still, we only played instrumentally. Troy and I wrote most of the music, and in most musician’s circles that kinda gives you a veto right when it comes to the individual parts of the songs. But Alex had a voice. He was always singing. But I thought it was a little too “pretty” for our music. And it was really. I mean, he could actually sing…and play drums, and keys, and bass, and whatever else he got his hands on. Looking back now, he’s easily the most naturally gifted musician I’ve known. I was a self-absorbed asshole. Some things never change.
We ended up playing a few more gigs with this lineup than the last. We got away from the church, thank god, and ended up playing a few times at a place called Java Books. It was always fun, and I have a really great memory of some random lady really shaking it to our shit. No surprise there, as I still consider the Lugo brothers to be one of the best rhythm sections I’ve seen live, and ultimately it was my privilege to play with them for a few years.
They eventually got tired of my shit though. Here we were playing all the time, writing some pretty good music, but still not having a vocalist, even though we did actually have one. By the time I finally stepped up and started singing myself, we were playing the final notes of the Funk Wagnalls. (Yeah, let’s just look through the encyclopedia in our rehearsal space to find a name. No, let’s just call it by the name of the encylopedia! Yeah, perfect! Geezus.) By the time we recorded our first studio album, the Lugos had formed another band with a couple other guitarists and eventually ended up playing all over Riverside and beyond. And Alex finally got to sing. They made a smart move.
I’ve always been closer to Chris, and have talked to him more than Alex over the years since the good ol’ days. I think the last time Alex and I spoke was last summer over the Xbox at Troy’s. I knew he had some pretty rough times over the years, too, with a marriage that hadn’t worked out, but that had produced three beautiful children, two of which were twins. But I sensed it in his voice, which was unusual. We only chatted briefly, but he bore a greater responsibility than I’ll probably ever know and I could hear it. But then, he always kept a sense of humor about things, too, and I think we mentioned the possibility of jamming together the next time I rolled through Riverside. We said that a few times over the years, and unfortunately, it never happened.
I got a call from Troy yesterday. He told me Alex passed the night before. Like anyone who knew him, it still hasn’t completely sunk in. But the more it does, the more it hurts. I’ve been listening to our album the last two days and there’s no doubt in my mind his bass playing is the best thing about it.
I’ve yet to mention something about Alex, though, mainly because it’s not something he ever used as some sort of crutch or excuse, but it undoubtedly shaped his character and outlook on life. He was on dialysis for the better part of the last 20 years and ever since I met him. His body rejected his mother’s kidney way back, and another one just a few years ago. We never had any deep conversations about it, always preferring to keep it funny, or just plain shit talking. He was good at that. But we still created together, and it’s one of the most intimate things you can do with another person. I think it’s implied in the first rule of the Musician’s Code- Girls shall not come between bandmates.
The truth is I’ve never had anyone close to me die before, if I don’t count my grandparents. But I never spent as much time with them as I did making music with Alex. And so this feels so much heavier.
As we all can’t help but do when something like this happens, I’ve been thinking about our past together. Thinking how I held his shapeshifting against him for a long time in the early days. Now I’ve come to the realization that Alex just wanted to be loved like everyone else. But I’m one of those ultra guarded lovesick guys who believes in pouring it out in my art, stone-faced in the day-to-day, and still thinking it’s a vulnerable thing to do. And it is. But what’s more vulnerable than that is putting it out there like Alex did all the time. What I had earlier perceived as weakness was really the ballsiest. It was vulnerability in the rawest sense.
And that’s on top of the fact he’s always been dealing with the kidney thing. I’ve been pointlessly obsessed with death as long as I can remember, but again, never having experienced anything close to it really, besides pets, which have been hard enough. But Alex had to have been practically forced to think about it over the years going through what he did. So maybe that fed the need to be so forward with his desire to connect with people in any way he could. How the hell do you hold that much heart against somebody? Because that’s what it was, more strength, courage, and heart than I’ll ever have.
Of course I never told him any of this. We never think we need to speak truth like this, right? Because we take for granted that people will be around. One of those things learned the hard way, I guess. So fucking cliche. But I really wish I could tell him how much I respected him as a musician, and moreover, as just a good guy who had the ability to bend the most dissonant notes of life into the most life-affirming of melodies.