Life is fragile so enjoy the sandwich.
On September 2nd 2017, my ObamaCare kicked in for exactly one month, so I went to the Atlantic Terminal Mall in Brooklyn to see the optometrist because my eyes were hurting and my glasses weren’t working. Speed up 1 week and I’m at home re-learning to walk after emergency brain surgery to remove a tumor I had no idea about, that was in there for at least 5 years, measuring 6 centimeters in diameter; speed up 1 month and I’m having a seizure at IKEA while I’m recuperating; speed up 2 and I’m back playing guitar with my band Uncivilized.
That’s right, I have a rare brain cancer. I have a relatively good pathology, but it may shorten my life, and I may have some radiation and chemo coming at some point down the line, and MRIs every three months, for sure. I don’t look like a hipster anymore (even though I am one) because I don’t need glasses anymore since the brain tumor was pushing on my optical nerve.
I was 26 when Ben Ratliff of The New York Times showed up unannounced at one of our shows (I found out later via email). So, he comes back a week later to our residency at a bar in Bushwick (no cover charge) and writes a relatively kind and affectionate piece about my group — renamed “Uncivilized” for the occasion after my first album and the ex-environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth — but the article doesn’t mention that the show was at a burlesque bar, for free, and that I lost money. See, I’ve been working a day job writing recycling reports and sorting people’s trash for the last 5 years for a company in Harlem. Writing comes easily to me, especially after working several office jobs, not to mention growing up with a French teacher from Upstate New York, and a lawyer from Central New Jersey (his father didn’t make it past 8th grade, and Dad was the first to go to graduate school—woot!).
I’m trying to get out of the corporate environmental field just like Kingsnorth has, but who knows when it will happen now that I’ve got a baby girl and a second kid on the way. BUT, I am writing a book about guitar chords (www.tomcsatari.com/book/) and I am writing this for you right now.
Anyways, somehow I can still play and write music, probably better than before (maybe) because I am seeing and hearing things differently since the surgery, no joke. I’ve had friends, fans, music critics, managers, band members, arts administrators, and family members question my ability and quest to keep playing after having my skull opened up, but this recording is living proof of my post-surgery return.
We presented an “Uncivilized Plays Twin Peaks” show on the 29th of October, 2017 (two months after brain surgery) at a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn and it was emotional. We played some of my own “STOMPS” which are referential to doom metal, Frank Zappa’s freak-jazz and the Stomp song form from New Orleans—some sort of post, postmodern, Experimental Americana, or whatever. We also ventured into new territory with a guest vocalist on a few tracks (my friend, the Soul singer-songwriter Ivy Meissner). WNYU was there on a whim and recorded it all, playing bits on the radio a few days later. We’ve since mastered it and cut out some of the banter, but here it is, largely un-edited, totally gnarr and extremely meaningful to me. I probably shouldn’t be putting something into the web-ether that’s of such poor audio quality, but there are some really special moments on this recording.
The first track is epic, complete with a ramble through John Fahey’s arrangement of Good King Wenceslas (which we played previously at a Fahey tribute show)—my guitar takes a minute to get in tune, but that sort of summarizes the rawness that we’re going for. Nick Jozwiak sounds as prodigious as Jaco on the upright, bringing some monster chops in an unplanned Cadenza after the main theme (he used to play cello for us, and he’s a force there too). Rachel Housle finds the middle ground between punk, funk and Jackie McLean swing (she’s from Hartford). Casey Berman led the way with his reaching clarinet gymnastics on the classic Peaks joint “Audrey’s Dance”. Kyle Wilson is like a better Chris Cheek, bending notes and dropping west-coast cool, hitting bluesy threes from afar (hear him trade Bebop rips with me on “Shelby”). Levon Henry takes a heart-wrenching 30-second alto sax solo on “The Nightingale” —‘nuff said. Sound Designer Dominic Mekky played organ for the gig, displaying his own single line fireworks and post-apocalyptic textures with a delay pedal (check out his dark harmonies on the slide guitar outro of “Just Friends”). Julian Cubillos is the less-jazzy, never-plays-a-wrong note Rock guitar counter to my own playing. And last but not least, Tristan Cooley’s unhinged bebop flute is the cherry on the top, pushing the melodies into those poignant uppers.
This is our own folkloric interpretation, referential to the second Lynch series “The Return”, very much in the spirit of Albert Ayler’s gospel album or Ornette Coleman’s free folk-jazz with James Blood Ulmer. If we did the licensing wrong, you can look/lock me up, and I’ll take it down if you ask me nicely. The album will be available through my own entity UNCIV MUSIC [ASCAP] via Bandcamp on my 30th birthday (I know, so narcissistic, but you only turn 30 once!), and also streamable in full (like an old record, and to reduce the carbon emissions of the “release”) at www.UncivilizedPlaysPeaks.com. The lead single is coming out on 4/20. (I’m like Zappa, I don’t like to get high, but CBD is good for your brain!).
This album will be dedicated to my wife Carla Justine (CJ) and daughter Nina Eames for their unending support and sacrifice during this period, with infinite thanks as well to my immediate family Judy, Sasha, Emily, Mike, Big T, Randy, & niece/nephew Maggie, and Jackson.
Cheers to the next phase of Uncivilized, whatever that may be.
P.S. GJ Gerner is a constant inspiration as we both had frontal lobe tumors at age 29. They found a much more complicated pathology for his cancer, and he is fighting a difficult battle, but his brother created a platform to donate towards brain cancer research (#StacheStrong). Please consider donating toward brain cancer research here: https://www.stachestrong.com/.