Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eric Allen

What validates an artist?
Screaming fans?  Critical acclaim?  Hot chicks?  Tanks made out of gold?  Posthumous adoration (this is the one I'm personally banking on)?  Does a true artist even want to be rewarded for creating their art?  The prevailing opinion seems to be that it is decidedly uncool to seek validation.  One of the 49 things that only Freddie Mercury could get away with was being the exception to this rule.  He made it clear that he wanted sex, royalties, a certain sum of money, girls of a certain proportion, somebody to love... basically everything.  At least one of those things ended up killing him, but I digress.  We want to root for the underdogs, until they're not underdogs any more.
It's a very natural human reaction: we want performers to be rewarded for being great, and chastised for not being great.  That's why words like "under-rated" and "over-rated" exist.  Bands we like that everyone else would like if they were as smart as we are are under-rated, and bands that everyone else likes because their taste isn't as good as ours are over-rated.  I'm sure that when the Arcade Fire won their Grammy last year, many misunderstood teenage girls in the flyover states shed tears of joy.  Finally, finally, their heroes won the day.  It doesn't always happen like this.

I met Eric Allen in the dorms back in the fall of 1992.  Another shy kid with brillo-pad hair - but he had a PRS guitar, which at that time were worth about $2000. He played in a band called Kelp.
In the mid-'90s, Eric lived on the second floor of a two story warehouse on Henry Street in Richmond, VA.  There was something of a revolving door of roommates, but he and his friend Boober were mainstays.  They would often have punk rock shows there, and they were always a good time because there were no grown-ups around.
In 1996, Eric, Boober, John Swart, Ben White, Trivett Wingo and myself formed a band called Typecast.  We were something of a parody of the cookie-cutter hardcore bands that Richmond always had an overabundance of.  We wore golden hockey masks and played about once a month at the Henry Street warehouse.  This is not their story.
Around that time, Eric recorded a solo album on cassette and passed it out to some of his friends.  I was blown away.  How the hell did he fit drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, trumpet and vocals on 4 tracks?  How was he so good at each of those instruments?  How was he able to vacillate so deftly between quiet finger-picked acoustic passages and caustic white noise?  Where did he learn how to write songs like that, but never do anything to try to present them to people other than making this tape?
In 1998, Eric and I formed a band called the Greman with Dave Choi on drums.  I saw Eric as a better version of myself - better at writing songs, better voice, equal or better at guitar.  I also had a begrudging respect for his laconic attitude towards advancing our band's popularity.  He really seemed to have no interest at creating any sort of a fan base.  He just wanted to play music.  The Greman's shining moment was at a show in the Shockoe Bottom district, which was where the fratboys liked to go to cut loose on the weekends.  We had a fog machine and covered "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush as an instrumental, with Eric playing the vocal melody on guitar.  Yes, it ruled.
The Greman were short-lived however, and instead of the traditional "I hate you, we're breaking up!", we just kind of stopped practicing.  There was never any bitterness over it.  Eric went on to play in a band called the Plumbers, and various other side projects - usually with Boober.
In early 2001, Eric asked me to record some of his songs on my 4-track, and I happily obliged.  I would keep asking him to come over and mix them down, but he never seemed to be available.  It was one of those things that we figured we'd do at some point in the future.
I ended up moving to Austin, and the tapes remained unmixed.  I got in touch with Eric a few years later through myspace and promised him that I'd mix down the tapes and send them to him in the mail.  While I was in the process of doing this, I got a phone call from his mom saying that he had killed himself.

What validates an artist?  I guess it depends on the artist.  I have the feeling that if whomever is reading this listens to any of his songs, that would have been enough for him.

Eric Allen youtube playlist

1 comment:

  1. Thanks David. I now can listen to Eric on my iPod instead of continuing to wear out my cassette. Excellent music, and I had the pleasure of playing a couple of the tunes with him in the band. I was happy to provide him with the 4-track he used to create this music. The gallery was truly a "heppenin" place.