I went to an exhibit last weekend that was curated by a friend who’s an incredible musician, songwriter and scholar with a master’s degree in folklore.
His exhibit documented the work, history and intentions of Rowntree Records, a small, ever-shifting, self-contained collective of musicians experimenting and recording in Richmond, Ind., over the last decade or so.
The photos, lyric sheets, recordings, ephemera and explanatory text that accompanied these artifacts described the creative arc of a group of musicians whom I hadn’t known. In short, the exhibit told the simple story of a group of friends who’ve worked together in a Petri dish making music for its own sake, and whose goal has been the endless repetition of the creative act with little consideration of what might happen next.
For me, the exhibit cut through the static of some ideas that have been buzzing around in my head lately. It helped me see again, and from a different perspective, the power that creativity has in establishing and sustaining communities, and how music can exist for these purposes alone.
All of it immediately applied to my own experiences in Louisville’s music community.
The storied history of the Louisville music scene over the past 30 years is basically impenetrable to me and, I suspect, to some of you. It’s been an uninterrupted clusterfuck of talent so maniacal and severe one can scarcely keep from laughing at the sheer improbability of it all. It happened, it’s still happening, and here we are. To the folks who labored through fat years and lean, identity with and within the Louisville scene eclipses the suggested importance of neighborhood, school, income, rank, creed and color.
It has been at times the warmest, most supportive family one could dream up, and at others abusive and exclusionary. Big deal. If your older cousin beats you senseless with a stick, you get up, dust yourself off and immediately build a clubhouse together to look at nudie books and G.I. Joe comics, the whole thing lost in the memory of five minutes ago.
This is our community and our history, and we damn well better take care of them.
Some of the best bands I’ve ever heard in my entire God-given life are from Louisville, and they are my peers. The most instructive and humane thing about coming up in Louisville is that we’re constantly surrounded by the people we admire. They are acquaintances, co-workers and friends whom you learn from and love. This is our blessing. We are our own archive and legacy. The only sin that is unforgivable is to lose sight of this and become immune to our continued potential.
Recently our community lost a friend, a preeminent musician and historian. Tony Bailey was probably a genius. He played the shit out of the drums and knew more about rock ’n’ roll music and the history of Louisville’s scene than anyone I’ve ever met. The breadth and depth of his knowledge was staggering. He was a good friend to his friends, kind of a savant, usually the funniest person in the room, and a tragic contradiction.
And, it cannot ever be overstated, he just ruled behind a drum kit. He will forever float around somewhere in the top-five greatest Louisville drummers of all time.
The exhibit I saw last weekend featured a chart with band names on one side and musicians on the other. A gang of lines crisscrossed the space in between, describing all the permutations of players and bands. If we had a similar family tree for the Louisville scene there would be a train wreck of lines piled upon Tony’s name. All roads, it seems, lead to Tony in Louisville.
He left a big damn mess in his wake. I know no one needs me to say it. I’m at a loss, and I only know that I’ve got to say something. Some of Tony’s best friends are some of my best friends, and everyone is struggling for perspective.
The very least we can do is recognize that, when we choose to be a part of it, our community is one spectacular fucking specimen of creative dialogue. What we do together is important, and it will continue to be until we decide otherwise.
If you absolutely cannot find someone to give you a Louisville music history lesson, you can start with:
•Bold Beginnings: Louisville Punk 1978-1983 (Noise Pollution, 2008)
•“Slamdek A-Z” by K. Scott Ritcher