Can't listen to music,
I keep waiting for Austin to text me and tell me it's not true, but as it slowly seeps into my mind (and my dreams for the few moments I manage to nod off), there's an overwhelmingly dark cloud approaching that doesn't look like it's going to go away. I can picture him in front of me, the way he moves, the way he talks, and the energy that IS him.
This is the person that gave me the strength to keep writing when I'd reached a tipping point in my first year living in NY; I had decided to stop. I vividly remember taking the overnight bus from Montreal to NY from Sunday to Monday, waiting out the 4:30am pit stop at the Albany terminus and thinking: “I can't continue on being a musician”. So I got in to the residence and looked up how to opt out of school a few weeks into the session. That Tuesday afternoon was my ensemble rehearsal, where I'd been placed with Austin and some other great and kind musicians, led by Andrew Cyrille. Andrew had asked us to bring in our compositions. I had been writing one specifically for the ensemble, as a tribute to my brother's ex-girlfriend who had passed away from a rare blood condition. I brought it in, and upon reading the sheet music Austin said “This is so dope, man! How'd you come up with these harmonies?”. We went to get some food together and talked about who we listened to, realizing we both loved Brahms tremendously. This began one of the most inspiring, life-changing friendships of my life. I decided I had a right to think I could be a musician, if only because HE thought so.
Austin and I would meet up on weeknights and grab a 6-pack of Pacifico (he would drink 4, I would drink 2), and listen to music. He had already recorded his 3rd album, which I had to beg him to show me; he had a hard time listening to his own playing, he explained. He managed to get a weekly gig on Wednesdays(?) at a Peruvian restaurant in the East Village which we played duo, playing free, sometimes with ideas he would bring in. The piano was out of tune, but Austin would remember which notes were truly unplayable and simply avoid them. We would go home and listen to more music until late. The hang was Austin, me, Dominic Mekky, and Jay Rudolph. Others who met Austin would think him very intense, I would always respond that geniuses are intense by nature, there was no way around it. I started to notice that those who claimed to know him, or had stories about him were wildly exaggerated and invented; here was the kindest, most engaging person I'd ever met. There was no banter or small talk with Austin, it was everything, oneness, truth, love, the widest scope of the human and supernatural experience, always and everywhere we went.
He'd made up his mind to move back to LA. New York wasn't the place for him, though towards the end of the school year he was beginning to admit that he was going to miss it. We would talk about his first semester at The New School, how his impression of the city and the music was false and fake, all things I attributed to the people he'd first met. Musicians would cling to him, as if his being would somehow make them better. In a way, it usually did, but it was a one-way relationship. They were seeking something other than Austin as a whole.
Before the year ended, I remember taking him to meet some of my friends at Coffee House (Coffee Shop?) on Avenue A and 14th Street. Austin was seated across from Gemma Soldati. Naturally, his first choice of conversation was the cosmos, where Gemma negated everything he said for the sake of negation (something he didn't let slide). This sparked an infatuation from both Austin and Gemma, though it took many months to come to fruition. There was a specific hang on my girlfriend's rooftop where when we left, I remember Austin looking at me and saying “What's UP with that girl, man? Why didn't I meet her earlier. What a trip!” I replied, “I know, man, this is what you'll be missing when you leave”. Walking up 1st Avenue, he then yelled “WHY DOES HE DO IT????? BECAUSE HE HAAASSSSSSS TOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
In April and May, we'd seen each other essentially every day, or at least been in contact. One exception being that he was playing with FlyLo or something, and texted me saying he'd just met Thom Yorke, mentioning how nice he was. It was Austin-esque to say hello wherever he was or whoever he was with. When it came time to leave for the summer, he vowed to come back and hang/play. It was in September or October of 2010 that he came to stay with my brother and I. I had convinced him that Gemma wanted to see him (she very much did). I'd invited them both to a friend's show. It wasn't more than 2 minutes before they left together. This sparked Gemma's moving to LA. We kept in touch frequently as he began to get very high-profile gigs (he'd already begun playing with The Cinematic Orchestra in the Winter of 2009 I think).
After leaving the New School, I called Austin and asked him to reserve 12 days in December. I wanted to plan a big band tour, with him as the feature. He accepted, turning down much better paying gigs. I then spent 3 months writing music specifically for him, which turned into “Hope”. I remember when he arrived at my apartment, and we looked at the piano music together. I've never felt anyone genuinely tell me they liked my music than in that moment. He completely understood what I had written for him, he knew how to phrase everything perfectly, knew how to emote all of the subtleties. I've yet to come across musicianship like this since. The next day he spent perfecting everything, making notes in the score. Before heading off to the first rehearsal with the band, he said “Okay, I know it now.” The following 12 days have meant more to me than any other time in my life. Having “Peraltitas” on board, the whole band had power and energy unlike ever before, every night was different. The most notable moment came when we were in studio to record the piece. It was around 1pm when we began tracking the rhythm section. We played two takes of the major solo section, and with the second one, everyone in the room knew that was the one.
Later as I was mixing the record and sent him a draft, he responded with this:
I still think that's an incredibly special solo, but more importantly, the piano performance as a whole is truly deep. I don't know if he meant what he said, but it was (and still is) nice to hear. He played the moment as beautifully as it could ever have been played. I only managed to capture the second half on video, but the audio will always be there. I had expected to write more music for him, as I'm sure many others also intended. It's nearly exactly a year since he showed up on my doorstep in Brooklyn. November 29th. The last time I saw him was on December 11th 2011, I walked him down the stairs of my girlfriend's place to hail him a cab on 1st Avenue and 11th Street. I gave him a big hug and told him how much the tour had meant to me, and that I planned on doing it again. I'll never forget what he said; “Anytime, man. Anytime you write something, I'm down to come play for you, wherever.” How I wish I could have him come play my music just one more time.
I can't say this enough. The most joyous and proud moment of my life was having Austin play music I'd written for him, backed by 19 of my closest musical friends. I have all of the recordings from that tour, I don't know if I'll be able to listen to them anytime soon, but I know that when I'm ready, his spirit will fill my head, the room, the planet. It's too strong to be forgotten.
So as I sit in my room crying, waiting for another thought to cross my mind (everything else has been rendered trivial), I want to thank him for having saved my musical being. I'll miss him incredibly as a musician, but most as my friend. There are so many others like me. I could write so much more, but maybe that's for another time.
I miss having him write nonsensical prose into his phone
I miss him leaving incoherent messages to friends at random times
I miss JONDY
I miss having him embarrass me while yelling in the street
I miss having him to drink Pacifico and talking about music
I miss Austin.