Of all the DIY underground concerts I’ve hosted or been a part of, I’m most sentimental about the Speak In Tongues Rockin’ Holiday Party we threw on December 28, 2001.
The show was the ultimate gathering of Speak In Tongues characters, past and present, ever assembled. Wall to wall friends.
I look at these photos and miss every single person.
A note about photo credits: I tried to identify everyone by name in the photos below, but there are some glaring omissions and I apologize for that. I’m not trying to leave anyone out! Sometimes my middle-aged brain is not so remembering. I would appreciate your help reattaching names to faces. Please contact me—let’s make sure everyone gets recognition. Thank you.
The Rockin’ Holiday Party, like many semi-mythical events, had a disastrous side too—an awful aftermath where our precious venue closed down forever. Thank goodness this was unknown to us when we started planning the party. Otherwise we might have been too bummed out to try something new.
The Rockin’ Holiday Party idea was concocted by my buddy, fellow amateur musician Ian Colbert, and I. In the summer and fall of 2001 we had been secretly working on a new group called Sean & Ian. Our concept was a noise duo playing pop songs (accompanied by two jamming Drumulators courtesy of Ted Flynn).
This was my first band post-Razak Solar System (Razak SS was an electronic hardcore band with Steve Peffer and Kevin Jaworski from 9 Shocks Terror) and it was a big change. Heck, Sean & Ian was really different from nearly everything that was going on in Cleveland at that time.
Ian and I had tested out the noise portion of the Sean & Ian concept at the My Name Is Rar-Rar show earlier that fall under the pseudonym Scam Carnage vs. Spilt Milk.
But the song part of what we were doing? Ian and I wanted to spring it on our friends in the Speak In Tongues scene as a gift. Perhaps for Christmas? So that’s what we did…
One of the main SIT persons, our friend Danny Noonan, gave us Friday, December 28th to do with what we wanted. We promised him a blowout.
Stephe Kuchna—or Stephe Damn Kuchna, or simply Stephe DK—was and is a great visual and musical artist and a primary inspiration for the lo-fi explorations Ian and I were undertaking. Stephe had been an SIT resident for many years but had now moved out on his own. So this show was a bit of a homecoming for him. Of course Stephe had to be on the bill.
The Cassettes were emblematic of the tremendous sense of hope and newness Ian and I felt in this first (well, technically second) year of the millennium. Meredith and Nora were up-and-coming on the scene (drummer Jeff Ottenbacher was an old friend and collaborator from Proletarian Art Threat and The Conservatives, two excellent Cleveland bands who we had also recorded at The Invisible City). The Cassettes wrote and played great rock songs. We asked Nora and Meredith if they’d join the festivities—they said yes!
Ian and I wanted the show poster to be special so we organized a little photo shoot with The Cassettes and Stephe. We collaged the resulting pics together and I did some lettering. Voila! A rather unique and eye-catching poster. I think John from Oblongata or one of those other Kinko’s kids let us walk out the door with a giant box of 11″x17″ color copies. Luxe.
Andy Warhol’s ghost must have been haunting us—with so many posters, we thought, Let’s tape them all together and fill the windows of Speak In Tongues. So we did. Step and repeat. Later on, we flipped these giant 6’x9′ poster panels around and I spray painted “Speak In Tongues has escaped to the future” on them. They are in a Ken Blaze photo that’s become kind of notorious. But I’m skipping ahead of the story.
In early December 2001, Ian and I, The Cassettes and Stephe were practicing like crazy, getting our props together (we made LED-illuminated “SEAN & IAN” signs which you can see below–they turned out pretty dope) and promoting the show. We even ended up in the Free Times. This was a big deal for a Speak In Tongues show, where things usually happened under the radar of the local press.
So here’s where disaster set in: the secret weapon powering all my concert-hosting efforts in 2001 was my “new” ten-year-old used Toyota Camry station wagon which I picked up in the spring. It was intended to carry me to Los Angeles in 2002 as I already knew I was leaving Cleveland (I couldn’t find a good media job in NE Ohio—I was being pushed out of the nest).
We moved the band equipment, the kegs—everything for the shows—in that wagon.
One day after work I was riding past Speak In Tongues on the way home from getting groceries and I noticed that our ginormous window-filling posters were hanging crooked, so I pulled up in front of SIT, Ralph Haussmann let me in, and I got out the ladder and straightened up the hangers in 10 minutes flat.
Feeling pretty proud of my snappy repair job, I mock high-fived Ralph (Ralph doesn’t high five) and bounced out the front door and… uhhhh. Dude, where’s my car? I…I… had parked it in front of SIT while I did the windows. I was actually sober during this time period so I knew I hadn’t misplaced it (like I did once in L.A. oops).
OH FUCK SOMEONE STOLE MY NEW CAR WHILE I WAS LESS THAN 6 FEET AWAY, LOOKING IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!!!
Not sure if FML “fuck my life” had been invented as a term at that time but… “FUCK MY LIFE!”
Lorain Avenue of Stars—how could you forsake me?
My groceries, my Gameboy, my MiniDisc player and disc collection, my wallet, my car—all gone. I was fuckin’ broken. And broke. It was all the more tragic because I had locked the car—I still had my keys in my pocket! How could this have happened? I filed a police report and Ralph was nice enough to drive me home. Ugh.
One good thing about having my car stolen was that everyone at Speak In Tongues and our music community pitched in and helped Ian and I and the other folks involved with the Rockin’ Holiday Party get our stuff to the event and the show went on as planned. Whew. This is why I love my friends on the Cleveland art and music scenes.
I even got my car back as a Christmas present! (My Gameboy and MiniDiscs were lost forever though.)
[Major digression: The Cleveland cops arrested a guy selling drugs in my wagon at the Burger King parking lot on Dennison. In the ignition was a shiv—a blank Toyota key filed to a sharp point—that the dude used to get the vehicle started. Apparently the thief was lounging at the pay phone at the convenience store catty-corner from SIT and he knew Camrys could be shivved.
I was clueless until I used this new thing called “Google.com” and discovered that Toyota Camrys were the #1 most-stolen car in America for three years running for this reason! So this thief—ballsy, but also well-prepared. Clever scoundrel.
Of course the Cleveland Keystone cops notified me a week after they apprehended the dude, and they had not retrieved my car. They let Burger King tow it to a private impound lot so, yeah, my car was back…. with $1,400 worth of tickets and fees stickered to the front windshield. D’oh.]
Back to the Rockin’ Holiday Party: as I’ve mentioned in previous posts there were some dark forces swirling around Speak In Tongues in December 2001. Strange new characters lurking about, and rumors that the Communist Party people who owned the building were selling the property.
These were just rumors—at least up until the day of our show when it was confirmed to certain key SIT people that not only was Speak In Tongues going to have to close, but that the venue would have only two weeks to clear out. We all decided not to make a big deal of it at the show. It was too much bad news for Christmas. (Also SIT had been “about to close” many times before and I felt like we’d squeak through somehow. We didn’t.) I think you can feel the underlying do-or-die attitude in the photos below.
Welcome to the party at the end of the world.
On this night we had drinking, records, boisterous conversation, drinking, romance, bromance, wild musical performances, drinking, dancing, breakdancing—all set against a backdrop of unconditional love and support. Even the Speak In Tongues central people like Dave P. and Dan Santovin showed up. It was an all-star cast to boot.
The musical entertainment went over well, I think. The Cassettes slayed, Stephe was explosive and people dug Sean & Ian, especially when we swapped our signature signs.
Though the Rockin’ Holiday Party was not to be the very last SIT show—the 9 Shocks Terror, The Unknown, Brian Straw, Perfect Guy show on December 31st ended up holding that tension-filled distinction—it felt like an enormous release. Joyful in fact.
I’ve rarely felt so surrounded by love as I have on this night. I hope that if you were there you feel the same way.
These photos are for you. Merry Christmas.
Whoa! Check this out—you can see the poster above in the video below. Please note that Malcom Ryder’s The Last Night of SIT was filmed at the actual final show, not the Rockin’ Holiday Party, and it was kind of a tense situation (as mentioned at the top of this post):
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