I sat at my desk pondering what musical memory to tackle next. This process is random. I flip through the ol' rolodex upstairs and wait for something to give me pause. When I thought of Candy Butchers at Fez in NYC a lump came to my throat. That seemed to be as good a sign as any that I'd found my topic.
As usual I heard about Candy Butchers from cousin Mike. Seems my musical horizons are always on the move with Mike and Liam throwing coordinates into the melodious mapquest. Before I ever saw them live they had reached mythical status to me through word of mouth.
Here is what I'd heard.
The lead singer had been a musical prodigy. There was a fierce bidding war going on over his songs. He was represented by Tony Bennett's son. He'd lost his first and only love to cancer, the girl he'd been with since he'd been a teenager. The band consisted solely of him on acoustic guitar and vocals and his oldest friend on a snare drum with brushes singing harmony. They had a residency at Fez under Time Cafe right off the campus of NYU.
I'd not been in New York very long at this point so every experience felt almost religious. As I picture it in my head, it is almost like the feeling you get when you see a photograph of yourself as a baby. It goes beyond nostalgia to something inexplicable, something that can never be recovered.
All was promise. All was ahead.
Fez is all red velvet, mirrors, and sparkling lights. More like a supper club than a rock joint, plush booths encroach upon the stage. Candy Butchers packed the place to the point of discomfort and we would order two drinks at a time from the inevitable beleaguered hottie waitress.
Mike Viola is Candy Butchers and his career has continued to this day...he recently wrote/recorded/played in the fictional Dewey Cox film 'Walk Hard'. He also wound up co-writing/singing on Tom Hanks' 'That Thing You Do' soundtrack, a great album.
I wonder if his view of this time echoes my own. He owned this club once a month. Very much a showman, he would split the crowd into groups for sing-alongs to kitschy 80's hits. Or as instrumental additions to his own songs which people knew by heart in spite of the fact that he hadn't released anything yet. His friend sat at the snare drum behind him and rolled his eyes good naturedly when he would play the rock star. They were at once polished and raw.
The songs he sang about his deceased love would come out of nowhere in the set. He described a long leafy road out of his hometown and waiting for her in his car. He imagined her next to him while in bed with some new fling. She was always talking to him. I was more than once moved to tears.
Then boom! Right back to up-tempo fun!
Over a year of shows I probably went 6 times. Which in New York is almost like being a Dead Head. I told friends about him. I sent my music to Tony Bennett's son just because.
In a strange twist of fate several years later, I had to drag up every ounce of energy I had to go to my Uncle's wedding in Greenwich Village. I was sick as a dog and in a deep depression. When I say that word about that time it has a visual element, as if I am standing at the bottom of a deep crater while life rages on above me. My life had fallen apart in an astonishing way.
As I made my way around this celebration trying my best to behave appropriately, who did I see but Mike Viola! Turns out he was a cousin of my new Aunt or his wife was a cousin of my new Aunt. I can't remember which.
I hadn't seen Candy Butchers in years but I'd charted his progress. As I watched him stride through this party with a lovely woman on his arm I couldn't help but think of his poor dead love. He was obviously happy and that gave me hope. Couldn't I be happy? I didn't even have a comparable tragedy to overcome! If he could do it so could I!
So Mike Viola, wherever you are, thanks for all the musical memories and thanks for turning your pain into such beautiful art. And thanks for going to my Uncle's wedding.