Tommy Keene was an astonishingly great songwriter, a wildly inventive guitarist in a rock/pop sphere that was often anything but, and a guy who shrugged off myriad showbiz false starts / car crashes and proceeded to make his best records well into his 5th decade as a pro.
Also — a genuinely sweet, super funny, smart fella who had all kinds of time for his friends & nutcase fans alike (and those camps had some overlap). godfuckingdamn the world is way less fun without him. Hugs of the real and we’ll-catch-up-someday variety to everyone who knows what I’m talking about.
I was lucky to enough to see Tommy and his crack ensemble of DC-based players (including Dischord credits-staple Ted Nicely) for the first time at Kenmore Square’s Storyville in 1983, tipped off by an earlier New York Rocker review of his Avenue Records debut 7″, “Back To Zero Now”. He was unfailingly patient with my annoying questions and for that he was rewarded with another 34 + plus years of annoying questions, occasionally punctured with me making a hash of trying to put his records into the hands of people who’d get it. Through his recordings for labels including but not limited to Dolphin, Geffen, Matador and Second Motion, Tommy’s songbook is impossible not to get lost in, and while I mean no disrespect to those who typify his work as power-pop, Tommy’s guitar playing and ability to give even his catchiest songs an undercurrent of melancholy transcended genre. Though his days making cameos in Anthony Michael-Hall star vehicles or playing alongside Paul Westerberg on Letterman were decades in the rear-view mirror, his final 3 studio albums, ‘Laugh In The Dark’ (2015), ‘Behind The Parade’ (2013) and ‘In The Late Bright’ (2011) were his finest work. If you wanna disagree with me, that’s cool, but you’ve got to hear those records first, otherwise your opinion is uninformed and you don’t wanna mope around with uninformed opinions at a time like this.
2 thoughts on “Tommy Keene, 1958-2017”
Tommy was so kind and so talented, and I’m so sorry he’s gone. I seem to recall reading a bio of Tommy where a he told a story about meeting Jeff Beck (I think?) backstage at a concert when he was young, playing Jeff’s Telecaster at Jeff’s request and so impressing Jeff that he gave the Telecaster to Tommy, saying something like “you can put this to better use than I can.” I have no idea if that is true (and I don’t care because true or not that’s a great fuckin story), but Tommy was so good, you totally believe it. Tommy was great in Louisville this summer, so glad we got to see him.
Tommy Keene, we will miss you. Thank you for creating many classic music for the world.