It™s easy to sneer at the big rock conventions, but I™ll give one of ˜em some credit. In 1994, I attended South By Southwest in Austin, TX — the city where I now live — and saw two bands for the first time that I™d end up working with over the course of the following 12 years — though a couple of record labels and continents. One of ˜em, Spoon, weren™t actually on the official SXSW bill and played a renegade gig at a renegade drag queen bar. The other, the Seattle-based / Montana-spawned Silkworm, had no such drag queen connections, performed on the smaller of two stages at Emo™s, the 6th Street nightclub where I spent most of this past Friday night selling t-shirts and CD™s.
Mission Of Burma played there this past Friday and it was a great show, enhanced in no small part by the room™s CBGB-in-100-degree-heat ambience. But the occasion was far from celebratory for a few of us. Burma had shared a stage & dressing room with Silkworm on prior occasions and are a mere degree of seperation from the band on the Pete Frame rock family tree. Some had heard what happened the prior afternoon — that Silkworm™s Michael Dahlquist, and two friends (workmates and fellow musicians, Doug Meis and John Glick) were killed in Skokie, IL, the victims of a automobile collision caused by a woman trying to end her own life.
(photograph by Heather Whinna)
Amidst everything else zipping through my brain on Friday night — while trying to answer questions from drunken oafs like œdo these shirts come in sizes? — I was momentarily transported back to the first time I saw Silkworm (above) play in that very building. Laure Parsons had encouraged me to check them out (not so much out of record label scouting nonsense, but because she liked them and perhaps thought I would too) and I was skeptical. I knew next to nothing about Silkworm. I knew they were from Seattle (strike one!). I knew that a guy from a Seattle radio station had a hand in releasing their first EP (strike two!) and their first 7 featured Comsat Angels and Fleetwood Mac covers (in the words of Hawk Harrelson, œgrab some bench).
Oh yeah, I also knew they wore suits onstage. And the dry cleaning bill must™ve been a motherfucker.
To say that I™d previously missed the boat on this band would™ve been a huge understatement. I was only vaguely aware of their recorded output until that point, having failed to even open any of the packages they or numerous friends had sent me over the years. A cursory pre-gig spin of the current-at-the-time ˜In The West™, however, was no small indication that I™d goofed. The songs were fantastic. The playing, inventive, but never obtrusive. And there was something really intriguing about the three different songwriters/singers and the way their differing styles clashed and intersected.
I can count on one hand — maybe Antonio Alfonseca™s pitching paw — the number of times a band has so completely destroyed my preconceptions as Silkworm did that night playing to a 2/3™rds full club of biz creeps and longtime fans. Yeah, they wore suits. Guitarist/vocalist Joel Phelps — who would leave the band soon afterwards (and would go on to make some devastatingly haunting recordings with his Downer Trio in the years that followed), sat facing his amp for the songs he wasn™t playing. Bassist/vocalist Tim Midgett — playing a sternum-shattering Travis Bean — seemed to be a classic rock songwriter with a quick wit and keen insight on a multitude of subject matter. Guitarist/vocalist Andy Cohen was a soloist whose excursions — equal parts Verlaine, Hendrix and Coltrane —never came at the expense of the songs. As a lyricist, he seemed to have a frightening obsession with war (as the years went by, I learned he had frightening obsessions with all sorts of things).
In the middle of all this was Michael Dahlquist. I can™t remember if he was still in the suit or he™d already graduated to the shorts-and-gardening-gloves ensemble that was his longtime trademark. But surrounded by world-class players, Michael stood out, big time. I™m not sure I™ve ever heard a louder drummer or one more capable of pushing what would™ve already been a very good band into the realm of greatness. I remembered seeing Chuck Biscuits duing his brief tenure in one of the later Circle Jerks lineups, and as wretched as that band was, Biscuits was so ridiculously good, I™d have paid just to see him play. Michael was just as hot, except there was far more to his repitoire than mere pummeling.
In short, they tied-it-all-together like nobody I™d ever heard or seen. And they continued to do so, even after Joel™s departure (and later, with Matt Kadane™s arrival) and in the face of less and less public and media interest over the years.
I feel absolutely privileged to have known these guys, and the sort of friendship they™ve shown me is hardly exclusive to industry characters. Through considerable ups and downs, numerous relocations, bounces through as many record labels as Jimmy Jackson™s played for NBA teams, Silkworm stayed focused on making great records and playing terrific shows, but always treating their fans with all too-rare respect and courtesy.
Tim said in one of the Chicago papers that Silkworm will not continue without Michael, and I have no doubt that is the right decision. The guy wasn™t just a talented drummer — he was a key, creative force in a band chock full of ˜em. And I apologize if much of this post has come off like cult band memory lane, because it should be stressed that as exceptional a player as Michael truly was, he was even more impressive as a person. I™ve known few individuals as funny or as thoughtful. Even amongst those who only met him a few times, Michael will be missed.
Beyond that, I™ve got little else to say. CSTB will return to its regularly scheduled output of gratuitous insults directed at Tom Sizemore very soon, I promise. But until that time, our thoughts are with Michael™s friends and family, as well as with those of John Glick and Doug Meis.