Fond farewells

   No end-of-the-decade retrospective would be complete without mentioning a few of the great individuals who touched our lives and, sadly for us, left our world. While I regret I cannot include all the late great musicians who made an impact, there are certainly three standouts: Jeff Wood, Mike O’Neill and Dave “Dave Rat” Anderson.

   Please read below and share in the reminiscences. E-mail any pictures or fliers you want to include here to juliegaristo@verizon.net or share your own stories in the comments below.

 … Let’s take a moment to raise a pint to them one more time.

Photo of Jeff Wood taken by Chris Zuppa of the St. Petersburg Times

         A great musician, confidant, maker of merry, defender of the underdog and owner of beloved basset hound Bubbles, my friend and neighbor Jeff Wood died at age 42 on Sept. 14, 2007, after a several-year-long battle with brain cancer. The former drummer of Nutrajet, Joe Popp’s band and other acts helped out in a pinch and looked after his friends.  

   As a musician, the rocker nicknamed “Woody” was a precise and propulsive skins man, a captain in the army of British Invasion rock.  

  “He was as loyal a bandmate as anybody could ask for and would follow me blindly into any crazy idea,” recalls Popp. “He wore a dress in Macbeth and boxing shorts for the Bruiser release party. He was an unbelievable drummer and could play three times as hard as any other drummer for a solid hour. The saddest part is he never got to play for a living – an honor he most certainly deserved.”

   An all-around force of nature, Jeff maintained a fierce exercise regimen. He never lagged behind in his employment, often working overtime at his shipping and receiving  job, and all the while providing the beats for several bands at a time.

    He left no question about his character, so big in size it didn’t seem to leave room for attitude or ego, and if you take into account the droves of musicians and fans who showed up to his memorial service – who still share stories about him over a beer – his spirit is still very much alive and among us.

   Ask a former neighbor of ours, Connor Halpern, 9, who, according to his mom Andrea Halpern, recently got in a conversation about the afterlife with his grandpa.

   “I believe in ghosts because I feel Uncle Jeff all the time,” Connor said. “He’s all around me.”

   For more Jeff Wood memories, visit http://www.joepopp.net/Jeff_Wood/Home.html.

Dave Rat Anderson with bartender Joanne Rivera in photo hanging at New World Brewery; by Julie Garisto

 

 

 

 

 

Dave “Dave Rat” Anderson – Another drummer beloved by the Tampa rock and punk scenes, a guy who also helped out on the spot and exuded a sweet soul — whose void makes hearts sink a little and leaves friends asking why — Dave Rat, did not have a reputation for picking fights, but found himself in the middle of a fatal one early morning Oct 24, 2004, at an event celebrating a reunion of friend John Kennedy’s former South Florida punk band, Nuclear Beer, at New World Brewery.

      Anderson, 34, was fatally stabbed while attempting to come between musician Dave Decker of Valrico and Christopher Bellamy of Gainesville.

   The friendly musician could be seen all around Seminole Heights and Ybor City, riding around on an orange scooter and never lacking for a smile for each person he greeted.

     “I’ll never forget Dave’s mischievous smile!” said friend Christina Petro. “He was the first true punk rocker I ever met.”

      Bellamy has since been convicted of second degree murder. Decker recovered from his injuries.

    “Dave Rat never met a stranger,” Kennedy said once in a story I wrote earlier this decade. “You always knew where you stood with him. He was a very special person and touched many people lives positively. We should all be so fortunate.”

Portrait of Mike O'Neill by Carrie Waite

   Mike O’Neill – A shock and heartbreak, the frontman for Monday Mornings, Nailbiters and Unrequited Loves committed suicide on July 17, 2006 at age 41, in a manner so publicized that I’d prefer you Google it than ask me to repeat it here.

   In the late ’90s, fresh out of North Pinellas and having landed gig at the area’s alt-weekly newspaper, Weekly Planet, I found myself in contact with new artists and musicians. My head was swimming.  It was exciting but  hard at times. I didn’t have the sense of shared history everyone else had, but with Mike that didn’t matter so much.

   Joe Popp, on the other hand, got to spend more time with O’Neill. “(He was) a great songwriter and a passionate talent,” said Popp. “I knew Mike for as long time. When I was in Dogs on Ice he gave us our first gig. He used to play extra notes in between chords, which is a trick I flat out stole from him. He was probably the only guy that was at the Hub as much as me. We used to joke about doing a rock musical together, in which he would star as me. He said we along with (Will) Quinlan were the class of ’65 and we would all one day live in a home for aging local musicians.”

    For Mike O’Neill, my lack of scene cred or whatever you call it didn’t matter. He made anyone feel welcome – an equal-oportunity defender and, well, offender. He was even-handed joking around at your expense; part of his charm. It almost seemed if he should have cigarette holder. So droll was he.

   Well read, astute, empathetic (yet unpredictably aloof) and sometimes a stream-consciousness rambler — whatever the moment, Mike came across as unflinchingly honest.

    He always called me out on my mistakes. (Mike, if you’re reading, I am sorry I used the word Americana once in an Unrequited Loves blurb. I think I got confused seeing you with Diviners’ Will Quinlan on those long benders at the Hub. It was a busy week.)

    Mike and I bonded many times over our tastes in music. We’d play the Kinks or Zombies and Nuggets garage rock CDs. He dated a couple of my friends. I dated a couple of his. Both recurrent situations made it awkward to bond at certain intervals.

   I wish I could have talked to him more. I now make a mental note now not to let snafus with mutual acquaintances keep me from a good conversation with someone I respect. Life is too short for such nonsense.

Band goodbyes

 

Home:  Home flew the coop just before this past decade began. The uncannily brainy-accessible band had established a huge following in Tampa Bay and decided to seek out new opportunities in New York. Some of those pursuits paid off. A short time later, Hope opened for Flaming Lips during the band’s European tour. Home returned home in 2000 to play a record-attended Screw Music Forever Showcase at the Orpheum with Dumbwaiters – probably the best local show of the past 10 years and have returned on a few more occasions. Home-comings are always huge and worth planning ahead to attend.

 

Tres Bien: During the fall of 2008, the Tampa Bay’s reality show finalists The Next Great American Band, decided to relocate up north to Pa. (See earlier entry for more details). When visiting our area, however, the energetic performers return to a local stage and go all out for at least one rousing British-Invasion/psychedelic popaganza.

 

Geri X: This month, Geri X performed her last show. The Bulgarian-born singer made quite a stir with her poetic, confessional lyrics and textured compositions.    She said: “I’m terrified of leaving. It’s so final. I’ll miss everything I built here, but sometimes the greatest things come out of confronting your biggest fears. So I hope to go to Atlanta and focus more on my music full time and not so much the stress of my regular day-job life. I don’t expect to be on MTV next month, or to become a millionaire. I just would like to make some more people happy and tour. That’s all. I’m not sure why I have to leave to do it but I feel like I have to. The day of the going away show was probably one of the worst days I’ve had this year but the night and the actual show as one of the best. So I seem to be compensating for my shortcomings (laughs).”

One response to “Fond farewells

  1. Reading this from across the pond made me a little homesick and teary eyed. Thanks.

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