OK, there’s a story around the song that IMO needs to be told to really understand whats behind it and what went into its creation. I’ll apologize in advance for the ramble, but I hope you’ll bear with me and read it through before going to the main bit. Its all connected.
This project has been a true labor of love. Plain and simple. There’s just no other way to describe it and trying to add to that description is a waste of effort.
The journey began a few months before Chris died immediately following his last stint in rehab. To entertain himself there he had picked up an acoustic guitar they had and began to to play it as an accompaniment and learned to sing a few songs he liked. This seemed to trigger his inner musician and by the time he moved from rehab into a sober house he was playing and singing all the time (to himself), and took to recording some of the songs on his phone and texting them to me, as well as to his mother. In rehab he used the acoustic guitar they had there, and once at the sober house he borrowed one of his housemates guitars for a time. Shortly after that his housemate had a bad day and smashed his own guitar in a tantrum leaving Chris with no guitar to play. His step-dad Kirk, knowing how much the music was coming to mean to Chris, bought him an acoustic guitar of his own as a Christmas gift (2016) so he could continue to play.
The very first recording Chris sent me was his acoustic version of the song “Cumbersome” by the band “Seven Mary Three”. It was November 11, 2016 at 2:03 PM. It just popped up on my phone while I was at work. I didnt get to listen to it until I was in my car on the way home that evening. Honestly, given the circumstances under which it was recorded, the quality of the recording wasn’t all that great, but that’s to be expected. A fledgling musician trying to sing quietly in his room in a sober house late at night and the recording equipment being a phone.
Aside from all that, what was most apparent to me only one line into my first listen was that Chris had something beautiful in his voice that came through in spite of the equipment and circumstances of the recording. It was real. It wasn’t just the imagining of a father being pleased with something his son did. It wasn’t a crayon scribble being stuck up on the refrigerator door. His voice had a very sweet, melodic quality that pinned my attention right away and captured something of his true self that those of us who knew him well always saw underneath that loud, dramatic, “I’m a hard case” exterior he wanted the world to believe. This was wasted effort, of course. Those that knew Chris didn’t buy any of it for a second. We all knew who he was. Anyway, I immediately wanted to get him into my studio. If not for any other reason than to show him what he could do. Show him what he had to offer to himself and the world. With some practice and and quality recording equipment to capture that I knew he could really do something. Truthfully, I’d been waiting for something like this for a long time. As a life-long musician myself its been a selfish dream of mine to play music with my sons, but it just didn’t seem that they had any real motivation to get into it. I was OK with that. Not everyone is a musician, but music always been such a big part of my life, and has brought me so much pleasure and fulfillment that I just really wanted my sons to have that too. I cant imagine my life without it and if they never got anything else from me, I wanted them to have this too.
It actually took some time before I could get him into my studio because he had very limited availability while living in the sober house he had transitioned into from rehab. They had a strict curfew and his transportation options were very limited. It took like 2 buses and a train to get him to a train station that was reasonably close to my house. Finally, after several weeks of him living not-all-that far from me and not being able to get together I just drove out there and picked him up. Travel was about 45 min each way, so picking him up and bringing him home again involved my spending literally 3+ hours in my car. Still, had I known how short time was getting I’d have done it more, but of course I had no idea. We only actually had like 2 hours total at my place that particular day because when checking in with his sober house he was told he had to come home early to do some clean-up. Nothing could be done about that. He had obligations to his house and needed to leave, so our visit got cut short.
Since we had very little time left, I just downloaded a crappy karaoke track from the internet for him to sing along with, and because Cumbersome was the first thing I ever heard him sing, that was the backing track I downloaded. By the time I had everything set up we actually only got one take recorded, and when we played it back Chris (very typically) was horrified with the sound of his own voice. As was his way, he fixated on the few spots that weren’t perfect and ignored all the good parts in spite of the fact that 98% of it was the good parts and only 2% wasn’t perfect. I told him that the magic of the studio is that I could very easily fix that 2% in post-production, or we could simply punch him in and re-record those few bits he didn’t like, or we could re-record the whole thing next time. Chris couldn’t hear that, though. He only heard the 2% he didn’t like, decided that he was a shitty singer, got all mad at himself and stormed upstairs complaining about how much he sucked. Those of you that knew Chris wont have any difficulty imagining this scene. Chris never gave himself a break, or any credit for anything he did well.
Anyway, I knew that once he no longer had a curfew and he was able to spend the night again and we could spend some quality time in the studio that he would do a lot better and I knew that in spite of how down on himself he could be, that we could definitely do something that he would be happy with. I wasn’t really concerned about it at the time. Again, I thought we had time. So I took him home, hugged him, told him I loved him, and said goodnight.
We talked on the phone almost daily over the several weeks that followed, but that night was the last time I ever saw him.
We HAD scheduled plans for him to come over and record music a few weeks later on Feb 17, but he called me that day and said we had to re-schedule because he had something else he was going to do. He died early the next morning.
Actually the night he left early was not the last time I saw him. I saw him again for the very last time on Feb 18, but on this occasion it was his lifeless body lying on the floor of his bedroom.
The day he was born, because of the circumstances of his birth, the nurse put him in my arms first. I stroked his wispy little hair and kissed him on his face right next to his right eye and I said hello to my son. It was one of the most wonderful moments of my entire life. This time in his room on that fucked up February day I stroked his hair again, and I kissed his face on the very same spot, and I said goodbye to my son. I’ve never felt so desolate as I did in that moment. I wanted to lay down on the floor by his side and follow him down into death.
Aside from his mom, who carried him for 9 months, because of the manner of his birth I was actually the very first person to touch him after his entrance into the world. The first person to kiss his face. Because of the circumstances of his death I was also the very last. Anyone else before or after were wearing gloves. My touch, and the emotional extremes I experienced on those radically different days, are for me the bookends of my sons short life. The alpha and the omega. Believe it or not, this thought brings me a little bit of comfort. The first and last person to ever touch him was one of the two people in this world that loved him more than anyone else and continue to love him to this day.
Those events, the recording, the leaving early, how I feel about all that is a big part of what drives me and influenced my points of focus on this project. Getting back to the music, in the months that followed Chris’s death I had many other Chris-related things occupying 95% of my waking mind, and didn’t give a lot of thought to that recording we had made. It just wasn’t there in my mind.
Truthfully, when I did get around to thinking about it I simply wasn’t able to bring myself to listen to it. Not for a long time. I just wasn’t ready to hear his voice, and I wasn’t ready to think about the fact that the night we recorded it was the last night we were ever together.
Eventually, about 3 months ago, I finally steeled myself to listen to the track. To say it was difficult would be a tremendous understatement. I found myself listening to just the vocal track over and over without the karaoke backing track. Just him. Not the actual singing parts, though. I was listening to what the microphone picked up between the vocal lines. The sound of him breathing. Clearing his throat. The sound of him swallowing followed by that slight exhalation through his nose. Taking in a large breath just prior to singing a line. Simply the sound of him being alive. The quality of the microphone and the recording was such that it was like he was right there in the room with me. Right next to me. All I had to do was open my eyes and turn around and there he would be. That was all I could do for a while. Actually listening to it as a piece of music came a bit later.
For all that the recording was only ever meant as a first draft and that Chris was quite nervous recording in a studio for the first time, that he was singing for his Dad of all people which made matters even worse, and that he had no training and very little practice, he sounded really fucking good. Not perfect, but really good, and considering all the factors it was actually spectacular. WAY better than a lot of professional singers I’ve heard. I knew as soon as I heard it that I had to finish it. For Chris and also for me.
It was the only chance to play with Chris that I would ever get.
So while I obviously play guitar, and I could do backing vocals, but I don’t play drums, bass, or Keys, so that night I started contacting all the people I wanted involved to get them on board. Several members of the immediate family are musicians so that was a no-brainer. So we have Chris, myself, my brother Shawn, my sister Rachel, and Chris’s step-dad Kirk.
For the parts that couldn’t be done by family, I reached out to some friends. Jeff Mason for drums, Forrest Wilkes for bass, and Scott Houston to split the backing vocals with me. I asked if they could hook a brother up and they all unhesitatingly agreed.
I swore everyone to secrecy as well because I didn’t want anyone to know about it until it was finished. I didn’t want to rush it, and I also didn’t want to keep people waiting or have people ask me how it was coming all the time. Its a virtual guarantee that as soon as people knew there was a quality recording of Chris singing they would be after me to be able to hear it, and I’d have to tell them they had to wait, and blah blah blah. Getting all these people into my studio one at a time, recording everything, and producing it is a project spread over several months. I just didn’t want people to have to be patient.
I cant express enough my gratitude to everyone involved. This was my project. Finishing a song that Chris and I started together back in February 2017. That said, it would not have been even remotely possible without everyone else that gave me their time and energy and love to make this a reality. I’m a long way from the only person that loves Chris. I couldn’t have done this without any of you.
I have no doubt when you hear him you’ll agree, the kid could sing. Unpracticed, nervous and ill-at-ease, lacking both confidence and training, he was already good. Given time and work he would have been so much more. I’m sad beyond words that this song is the only one I’ll ever produce for him. The only song I’ll ever back him up on. I wish he could hear what I did with that little bit we recorded that night. That little bit that made him so mad.
In the midst of all the wishing and feeling sad, I also rejoice that, for however brief a time, Chris found his voice before he died even if he didn’t know it at the time. Whats more, he left something of himself behind for the rest of us to enjoy. Something deeper than just photo’s or memories. I’m grateful beyond words that I have this much of him, and that I have been able to bring his voice to life for everyone else to hear and enjoy too.
Chris would probably have cringed if he heard me refer to him as a musician. He would have produced a long list of reasons why he thought he was not a musician, but he had the soul of a musician and that’s where music really lives. Playing an instrument is a learned skill. Music is spirit. Instruments are just the tools that allow some of us to give it a voice. Chris had the spirit, and his own voice was his instrument if only for a short while. He was a musician and I’ll have words with anyone that says otherwise.
Like all the best musicians, he left us all wanting so much more.
If you’ve read through this entire story you are now aware that this song is literally my last night in this world with my son. It has meaning to me that I cant even begin to express. I’m thankful that our last night together was spent doing something real, doing it together, and that it was something that has lasting value to me, and hopefully to others as well. It could have been watching a movie on TV. We have been known to do that, and to enjoy it, but if I’m forced to live in a world where I have to have a “last memory” of my son, I’m glad it was something a little more special.
Chris was so mad at himself when we recorded this track. All I wanted was to show him how awesome he was, but he just couldn’t hear it, so now I hear it for both of us, and now so will everyone that listens to this song.
Most of you know I built a guitar in Chris’s memory with inlays that match some of his tattoo’s. People have referred to this guitar as a tribute, but that isn’t really accurate. The guitar isn’t a tribute, its a memorial.
Finishing this song that we started together and making it into something that he would have loved and taken pride in, showing the world a side of Chris they’d never seen before and showing them what he just couldn’t see in himself. That he was beautiful, special, and his life mattered.
This is my tribute.
I love you, Chris. Now and always