Heartbreaking Bravery

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2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Nicholas Cummins)

Fern Mayo II

One of the many people I was very fortunate to get to know during my time in Brooklyn was Nicholas Cummins, who was playing bass in Fern Mayo when we were first introduced. They always treated me with a kindness that registered as both empathetic and tender; someone that genuinely cared not just about people but the state of their world. At some point last summer, they also began covering the low-end in PWR BTTM, allowing them to be more outwardly vocal about gender politics. Here, they offer up an exceptionally moving piece about returning to a home that was nearly forgotten thanks, in large part, to traumatic past events. I’m genuinely honored to be running it as a part of the 2015 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories and am increasingly thankful for all of the interactions I had with Cummins over the course of last year. A brilliant musician and a gifted writer, their piece can be read below.

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I clicked the left blinker and we merged onto the Rock Creek Parkway, finally on the way out of DC’s clusterfuckingly labyrinthine street grid and heading to our next show in New Freedom, Pennyslvania. It was early October and not cold yet. The forest on either side of the small highway was still lush and growing over, but the smell of drying leaves was fully in the air now and, like every year, that smell told me that the past was on it’s way back.

It’s a haunting cliché, but I really do spend every summer running carefree into the sun and every fall retracting into a dried leaf. In August, the long days and hot sun eek sweat from everything and all the colors of my friends and loved ones run together. The first week of September hits, though, and suddenly I can smell it.

New Freedom is actually a borough, not a town, in York County, Pennsylvania. It has a population of about 4,400 people and the center of commerce there is a Rutters gas station where I used to ask strangers to buy me cigarettes when I was 15. The post office is unintentionally modern, architecturally, for a one story building, and since I moved away they added a train museum called Steam into History. My old friend Cain is one of the last people I know there, and he’s starting a music venue in an old barn called The Hart.

It was the fifth stop on Fern Mayo’s album release tour for our first release, Happy Forever.

I was irritated because we had gotten a late start that day but to be real I am almost always irritated because we almost always get a late start every day (working on this). Holding the steering wheel steady with my right hand, I used the pair of locking pliers permanently locked into place to roll down the manual window in our 1997 Honda Accord. When we bought it for $500 from a family in central New Jersey in March that year, every surface of the car was covered in cigarette ash. I quit cigarettes in May.

With my knee holding the wheel, I cupped my hands and lit a joint. Weed makes me stupid, but New Freedom makes me sad. Choosing to play there as our stop between DC and Philly was as much an act of rebellion against myself as a way to bring two parts of my world together, the person I was growing up and the person I am now. That person was brash, insecure, and had a mother who suffered greatly from schizophrenia.

This one was quieter, more sure of themselves, still grieving her death, but getting better. Passing familiar landmarks, I noticed how much time had passed while I’d been on autopilot. We pulled off the highway and into the woods. We crossed an old one-lane stone bridge and I began to feel nauseous. “Where is the house you grew up in?” asked Charlie, then our drummer.

“Don’t worry about it,” I grumbled. It’s too easy to pass a wave of pain off onto the closest person. He didn’t reply. “Sorry, it’s not a big deal.” That house had been foreclosed on and taken by the bank a few years ago. Clearing my childhood boxes out of the dusty basement was a memory I didn’t want to revisit, but one that took any opportunity to muscle its way back into my thoughts. What was I supposed to have kept that I didn’t? Did I hold on to my mom’s old watercolors? Were they somewhere or did they get swept into the trash in the rush of it all? I can’t remember.

We rumbled through the forest. The Honda creaked as its wheels bounced into the potholes. Grass grew through the rocky pavement in the center of the road. Off to the left was a dirt path flanked by two golden-orange long-haired cats. The Hart.

Cain Kline is the first person who I saw perform music that really hit me in the gut. His first band, Paroxysm, played at Mr. Bob’s Skate Park when I was 14 and it utterly blew me away. 14 years later, we pulled our overheating Honda up the grassy hill to his barn to load in. He popped through the very tiny blue door and gave me a huge bear hug, shining black hair flowing down past his skinny ass.

The opening act was my close friend and former Paroxysm bassist Nate Borek, who came all the way from Philly to read poetry. During his set he spoke softly with a subtle and occasionally surging ebullience underneath his voice, like he was fighting to restrain his excitement. So many people I hadn’t seen in years surrounded me, sitting in a semi circle in the center of the barn as the light outside faded to the pitch black of the forest. Some I hadn’t seen since high school, some since my mother’s funeral. Nate smiled and glanced at me before reading his last poem.

“For Nicholas Cummins,” he said.

“Oh fuck,” I said.

My favorite bassist
of the band
Has a day job

My favorite bassist
of the band
Has a day job

They don’t do cartwheels
They do handstands

My favorite bassist
of the band
Has a day job

Somewhere in between him getting my pronouns right and calling me his favorite bassist, a tear rolled down my cheek, burning red from all of the eyes in the room pointing my way. I thought he may have known that I can’t do cartwheels, but have had vivid dreams about them. As I found out later, he meant that I was an active musician who maintained a 9-5, bouncing from New York out to DC or Pittsburgh or Boston and pulling together tri-state weekend tours, but always snapping back to my desk on time for work the next day. Handstands, not cartwheels. He was the same.

Sometimes a place you’ve left in ruins is unthinkable to return to. Sometimes you have to steel yourself to even consider feeling comfortable going back to the site of an old wound. You think it’ll still be there, open, stinging, evident in the time-imprinted sights of old street signs and buildings. And for the first couple of times, it probably will be.

But maybe over time some weeds will grow up through the ground and swallow what used to stand there. If you’re lucky someone with a kind heart will stay behind and tend to them, even start building a garden. I’m not really sure but I think next time I make it, some will have bloomed.

-Nicholas Cummins

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Jessi Frick)

jessi frick

Few people have had as direct of an effect on this site’s coverage as Jessi Frick and the work she does with Father/Daughter Records. For the past few years we’ve been locked in a never-ending battle of vocal support and have frequently fought on behalf of the same bands and records. She’s seen me at my most enthusiastic (the Northside showcase), my most exhausted (the CMJ showcase), and a few stops along the way. Always an inspiration and a source of strange comfort, she’s fiercely protective of the artists on her label and the people she loves (for example: every artist on her label). With that in mind, it’s probably unsurprising that for her piece as a returning contributor to A Year’s Worth of Memories focuses on an act that meets that criteria. Here, she talks about the enormous impact one band had on her 2015. Read it below and then find a way to celebrate the family you’ve built.

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2015: Year of the Cig

When you run a record label, it’s essentially like being the matriarch (in my case) of a big ass family. You love your children equally for their enduring and sometimes unique qualities, and are always there to love and nurture them as well as disciplining them when they get out of line. Their lives are my life and my life is their life and together we are a wildly dysfunctional congregation of misfits.

In late 2014 I received an email from Dean Engle, a musician whose work I highly admire. In the email he tipped me off to a band from his hometown of New Paltz, NY called Diet Cig. I clicked the link. It took all of five seconds for me to fall helplessly in love with them. I needed this band in my life. It turned out their personalities nearly outshone their music — Alex & Noah immediately became the ying to my yang. They are everything I wanted to be and do when I was in my early 20’s. They are spontaneous and reckless and FUN.

Luckily, they welcomed me into their world, thus kicking off what was to be the most insane year in the history of this label. Everyone went ballistic and it was the ultimate. Diet Cig are a band that literally leaves it all out on the stage. They work hard for you have the best time of your life. Offstage, Noah and Alex are caring, dedicated people who are a joy to be in the same space with.

Now, a year later, we talk almost every single day. When I don’t hear from them in over 48 hours, I get nervous like a mom. I literally can’t imagine a time in my life when we weren’t best buds. Basically 2015 was the best.

-Jessi Frick