I’ve been in bands my entire adult life. For most of that time, it was the most important element of my identity. Being in a band was not only a crucial creative outlet, but also a social space; it was how I met people beyond what is now the GLONO crew.
The first band I had–or at least the first group of guys who tried to get a functioning, performing band together–was The Silence. We were really only together for a summer, but we played a couple of shows, if you count basements as venues, and wrote and recorded eight songs. The best of these songs was a perfect little piece of electro pop called “Forever Summer,” written by Rick Grossenbacher.
Rick was our keyboardist and sequencer. He loved electronic dance music way before there was anything called EDM. His flavor was more in the vein of Camoflage, Front 242, New Order and Depeche Mode. Man, he loved Depeche Mode. He and Dan, our lead guitarist, would go on and on quoting videos, interviews and studio banter I can only assume came from outtakes and bootlegs.
“Start the tape, Mart.”
At least I think that quote is from Depeche Mode. I don’t really know because that wasn’t my scene. I came from the Brit Pop school and was specifically focused on the Madchester sound of The Stone Roses. Happy Mondays and The Charlatans. The most important Manchester influence for me though was Johnny Marr and he was then in his dance band project, Electronic, with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. So if keyboards, drum machines and sequencers were good enough for Johnny, they were good enough for me.
Mike and I would get so annoyed by that saying: “Start the tape, Mart.” Mike was our bassist who would go on to be in a bunch of other bands with me and I’m not sure he ever liked dance music. But even back then, Mike was an excellent bassist…who was easily annoyed. When Dan and Rick would get into their Depeche Mode quotefest, you could see Mike’s face turn red. And I think that was Rick’s favorite part.
I didn’t know anything about sequencing or looping or any of that, but Rick could be really inventive with it and he would often obsess over trying to get new sounds out of the limited stack of gear he had at the time. It was the first band for all of us and so there was a lot of fiddling and stumbling through how to get our instruments to sound like what we heard in our heads. These were also the early attempts at songwriting for us, and listening back on the recordings I can hear the influences clearly, but I can also hear our own unique voices coming through here and there.
Song structure and phrasing were still skills we were developing, which makes Rick’s “Forever Summer” stand out. Dan’s concise, melodic guitar lines; Mike’s flowing bass lines; even my voice and harmonizing are better on this song than any other of that time. But it was all Rick’s song, and his voice comes through clearest. I dismissed it initially as being a bit too soft, a bit too twee for the darker images I had in my own head. It wasn’t until we were recording it at a small, semi-pro studio that made up the first floor of a dumpy house in Grand Rapids that I heard how well crafted it really was…and how there were shadows underneath the sunny up side. That’s mainly because the verses of the song obscure the chorus. The verses are a lot of imagery of cloudless skies and the moon shimmering off water. It’s all a dreamy and Disney-fied recollection of what are actually often stiflingly humid affairs in the midwest. But then things get real.
“And if I ever turn my point of view the snow would fall and change it all forever.”
That’s deeper than I initially saw. It’s about perception influencing reality. You can hold on to “summer” regardless of what’s happening outside as long as you feel it. It’s summer as a metaphor for possibility and excitement. But if you lose that perception, it can be gone forever. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s some heavy shit for a suburban 20 year old.
I hadn’t seen Rick in years. After the summer of The Silence, we hung out from time to time but then I moved to Kalamazoo, then Chicago and now Portland, and he eventually moved to Dallas and California to do visual work in the gaming industry. We lost touch and I wouldn’t have any contact with him again until we found each other on Facebook a few years ago. We’d comment on each others’ posts and shoot the occasional direct message. Most of it was peaks of Rick’s humor, which in real life would pop out from his sometimes quiet demeanor like a jump scare in a movie. But reading between the lines, there was something else. Eventually he opened up about his struggles with alcohol and depression. He’d also sometimes go off on political rants that were completely out of character, at least out of character from the apolitical, quietly hilarious guy I knew years earlier.
The last eight years Rick seemed to go through periods of social media activity and quiet. When I took a break from alcohol this summer, Rick was very supportive and encouraging and shared how abstaining had helped him lose weight and feel better. He was looking and sounding (online, anyway) like his old self.
At 2:57pm on Halloween I got a call from Dan. I was in a meeting at work so couldn’t take the call but checked my voicemail when it was over. Rick was gone. He’d taken his own life sometime in the early morning hours at his parents’ house.
I supposed it would be appropriate and expected for me to end this piece with a reminder of what to do if you know someone considering suicide or suffering from depression, but we know what to do. The problem is we too often don’t do it, or we too often don’t know when to do it. I haven’t seen Rick in many years but I’ll miss him, I’ll miss knowing he’s still with us. My only hope is that wherever Rick is it’s summer.
Lyric video (with more photos) graciously provided by Michele Terpstra.