What's a memory worth?
One single burst of sound and energy and image? Still strong after 40 years?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The first bassist for an Evanston college band calling itself The Front Lines—they might have still been just "The Lines" at that point, since a group of that same name hadn't yet been encountered, requiring a quick fiddle with the name—was a freshman named John. My memory of him was of a solid, quiet guy who stopped attending classes entirely so he could sit in his second floor dorm room in the Orrington Apartments and laboriously teach himself to play the bass in order to join the band. He didn't last long in college or the group, that my roommate Kier started.
There might have been more bassists—I'll have to check —but by senior year, or just after, they found a kid named Kevin Bowie, a 17-year-old thumb-slapping bassist, a student at Evanston Township High School. It was an epiphany to watch him play, big thumping notes riffing from his flying fingers. It was thrilling.
You can hear him at the beginning of their song, "Night Napalm." I can't say for certain whether he was truly good or we just thought he was good. It was not a distinction I could conceive of at the time.
I must have heard that kind of bass playing before, on various disco hits of the 1970s. But to see it being played, up close. There was a tremendous hopefulness to this development. Those rumbling riffs seemed a promise, a thumping pathway up and out of the college town obscurity we all were mired in. The band had been plugging along for several years, success was slow in coming, as success usually is. But suddenly they had this kid, and oh man, he could play.
But it didn't work out the way they hoped. Life seldom does.
Jump ahead 40 years. I saw on Kier's Facebook page that Kevin, now in his late 50s, is battling some terrible medical situation and living in Florida. His wife began a Kickstarter campaign, trying to help the family get by. They haven't raised much. I might still have not pitched in—the memory remains whether I pony up or not. But I happened to be feeling particularly crappy Saturday afternoon, despite the sunshine. The fucking war in Ukraine. A magazine piece due Monday that is sprawling instead of gelling. The general isolation and langor of a pandemic now in its third year. I figured, maybe sending fifty bucks Kevin's way might make me feel a little better. It did. Doing good for others is often doing good for yourself too. I recommend it.