Round the Dial
Wednesday 13 November @ 10:13:52
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car, and into another.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Born In A Blizzard”
Man, it feels like I’m losing a lot of friends and personal inspirations lately. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a very long period over the past few years when I haven’t been bummin’ out about one hero or another biting the dust before their time. Two Ramones and George Harrison, Doug Sahm, Waylon Jennings, and, just last week, my dear friend, soul brother, and compatriot—and every bit as much a musical hero as the rest—Todd “Zilla” Kachinsky.
Todd—Toddzilla to his bros and sisters—was one of the principle motivators for my interest in and subsequent support of local music here in the Twin Cities. He was a true friend, a loving son, brother and uncle, a genuinely decent human being, a lover of women, children, and other living things, a philosopher, a giving soul, an honorary uncle to my son, a mentor, a late-night shrink with a drink, a shy musical genius, a kickass guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, a great songwriter, a funk-a-licious club D.J., a street-corner poet, a visionary, a doctor of love, a true-blue fan of real music, art and literature, a spot-on comedic impersonator, a rabble-rousing, brew-guzzling rock ’n’ roller, and a great, big, peace-loving teddy bear of a man whose giant heart, wicked sense of humor, and open, caring nature touched everyone he ever met. He signed every note, mix tape and letter he ever sent me with the line, “Peace, Love, And Rock N’ Roll.” And he meant it. Every one of you out there who was lucky enough to run across him will never forget him. And every one of you out there who never did, missed something rare and beautiful.
Todd’s passing came as quite a shock to me—I’d been thumbing through the St. Paul paper, brushing up on last-minute candidate info before I headed down to the polls last Tuesday, when I came across the obits. I usually scan the page quickly, making sure no older relatives or family acquaintances have gone on without warning. This time, however, there was a picture of my 42-year-old pal, dark glasses on, wearing his American flag bandanna (another great side of ’Zilla—his delicious sense of irony—a former marine who’d turned out to be too smart for government brainwashing, he took particular delight in his status as a True American; one who wasn’t afraid to question the system, to maintain a proud, fierce independence, and to stand up for his own beliefs) and grinning like a madman. He’d recently been to New York and sent back pics of his visit to the John Lennon Strawberry Fields Memorial, and had been sporting the same wild, thrilled-beyond-words face in those shots.
As I write this column, I still don’t know for sure what happened to ‘Zilla. Could’ve been a brain aneurysm (another irony he would’ve dug—Nirvana’s “Aneurysm” was one of his faves), say the medical heads. And frankly, other than the words “...suddenly on November 3rd...” in his brief obituary, I don’t think it really matters. A rabid lifelong fan of The Beatles, The Ramones, and Dylan, I think ‘Zilla started dying on the inside the day John Lennon was shot. I was with him the day Kurt Cobain died, and I saw a little light go out of his eyes then. I was there when corporate radio came in and killed his beloved REV 105, and I watched him slowly retreat a little farther from the harshness of these dark times we live in that day. I know George Harrison’s death affected him tremendously, because he came to the house the next afternoon and brought me the mix tape I’m listening to as I write this—a little treasure called “George In Order With Three Clever Lads Of The ‘Pool.”
And though I hadn’t spoken with him for a few weeks before he passed on, I know that the loss of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay and rocker Warren Zevon’s terminal illness hit him right between the eyes. A year or two ago, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that great big rock n’ roll soul had just gave out from pure grief. But the last time I saw him (I dragged him out to see Aussie singer/songwriter Paul Kelly at the 400 Bar, and he left with a lovesick smile and a lofty gait), he was happier than I’d seen him in ages, with a gorgeous girlfriend, a great job that allowed him to travel all over the country and enjoy music—he’d recently toured the Hendrix museum in Seattle—and, as usual, a fresh batch of original tunes up his sleeve. On the back of a postcard he sent me from San Francisco a while back, he’d scrawled the uplifting message, “Rock and roll forever! This world is beautiful and most of its inhabitants are too...” I dunno, maybe he just decided to go while things were goin’ so good—God knows he deserved to leave this world with some happiness in his sometimes heavy heart.
‘Zilla would perform near-mystical musical rituals when his heroes died—almost always penning a song or two and paying homage around the stereo with a few cold ones and some choice stories. I know if I’d been the one to go first, he’d have already written a song about me, lifted a few glasses, and regaled anyone within earshot with tales of our exploits together. How, then, do I go about doing the same for him with the resources I have at hand? All I can think of is doing what I’m doing right now—and noting a couple of the many, many cool things Todd did for me and mine, the music community and the world at large. Here are some of my choicest memories of you, Brother ‘Zilla:
*The very first time we met, I was standing on a ladder in front of a door in your apartment building, doing some touch-up painting as part of my job as a caretaker. You slammed through the door, almost knocking me off the ladder with your guitar case. After the initial shock wore off—and you made sure the guitar wasn’t damaged—we chatted briefly about (what else?) music. A few weeks later, I followed up on a work order to clean the carpets in your apartment, and you said you wanted to make up for almost killing me by playing me a song on your axe—any song I wanted. “Rockin’ In The Free World” by Neil Young, I said, off the top of my head. And you played it. Note for note, word for word, and right on the money, bro. The start of a beautiful friendship.
*You were initially a little shy about playing your own original songs in front of others, but as we hung out more and more often and started having Friday Night In The Round sessions with other like-minded musicians in my living room, you began pulling one killer tune after another out of your hat. I always said you should record an album, but you were happy just to share your music with people in a live setting and try to change things for the better one listener at a time. Your songs ranged from straight up rockers to humorous pickers to goose-bump-inspiring social/world commentary, like the one I chose for this week’s Song Of The Week. “Born In A Blizzard” started out with the lines: “I was born in a blizzard in the middle of a Cold War...” and every word rings even more true today. Your body may be gone, but that music will live on forever, man.
*You won the REV 105 Share Us With A Friend contest—$10,000. You posed in my living room with a giant fake check, tongue dangling like Gene Simmons, and then proceeded to plow through that cash over the next few months like it was paper mache’, buying rounds for your pals, paying for concert tickets, handing out new albums like they were penny candies, supporting local radio and bands, and basically doing more for the Mpls/St. Paul music scene than any one guy I’ve ever met.
*My son had an accident on the playground outside our place, and you were the sole voice of reason in the blood, sand and tears. You drove us to the emergency room, hung out until we knew things were cool, and made us and the kid crack up laughing, despite our trauma.
*I told you about some mentally-challenged young adults who really loved music, and you had me invite them and their caregiver to my house for a free, up-close-and-in-person acoustic concert. As they sat in their wheelchairs and sprawled out on pillows on my living room floor, you played their requests—from “Beach Baby” to “In My Room” to “Imagine”—and several of your own originals, leaving more than one of us with lumps in our throats and all of those special boys with big, %@!#$&-eating grins on their faces.
*You came with me for some of my first live interviews, and made them just as much yours as mine. When you drove me to Badfinger guitarist Joey Molland’s house, you insisted I credit you in the article as “Mike Ahrt” (My Cart), and then proceeded to put Joey at ease with your guitar tech talk, precise trivia knowledge, and disarming smile. He commented on your Son Volt hat, and we went home and made him a couple mix tapes full of new music we thought he’d dig. A year or so later, we met singer/songwriter Joe Henry at The 400 Bar for a live pre-show interview, and your presence added just the right something to make my subject relax, offer up hilarious bon mots, and invite us to stay for his rehearsal with several members of The Jayhawks. When I received backstage passes for a meet ’n’ greet with CCR founder John Fogerty after an interview, I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d rather help to meet one of their heroes. We posed for a picture with the Unfortunate Son, you got your CCR 45’s signed, and I don’t think you introduced me to a friend of yours ever again without regaling them with the story of that night—never mentioning that your continued interest in the man’s music had inspired me to chase down the interview in the first place.
*You loved literally dozens of genres of music—rock ’n’ roll, old country, heavy metal, blues, trance, jazz, rap, R&B, punk, techno, new wave, world beat, traditional, hell, you could even cut a mean rug to Alicia Bridges’ “I Love The Night Life,” and I’ll never forget the wicked grin on your face as you cranked up the chorus of Neil Young’s “Opera Star” and sang along.
*You turned me on to countless new and classic albums. I can look around my music room and name off literally dozens of contributions you made to the collection, or records your enthusiasm and exuberant love for caused me to go out and buy: Four or five classic punk releases, The Scud Mountain Boys, some Clash, Spearhead, Kiss, the first Smashing Pumpkins album, a couple of rare Hendrix boots, The Smiths, Blue Mountain, two Sonic Youth records, Ani DiFranco, Black Sabbath, Shonen Knife, Frank Zappa, Social Distortion, George Harrison’s 33 1/3 album, Son Volt, Concrete Blonde, Ben Harper, Wilco, Bob Dylan’s Desire, at least six Neil Young gems, and all those installments of Shakin’ Street and Rock N’ Roll Wing Ding that you recorded for me when I was too busy or irresponsible to tape ‘em myself.
*You introduced me to or got me excited about scores of local bands, including The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, The John Ewing Band, Polara, Run Westy Run, Babes In Toyland, The Geardaddies, Mike Merz, The Glenrustles, Balloon Guy, The Jayhawks, Wheelo, Arcwelder, Cows, Rex Daisy, Golden Smog, The Blue Up, and The Suicide Commandos. And that’s just a drop in the bucket. You can check with First Avenue’s regular bartenders and doormen, but I’m bettin’ that, between 1993 and 1999, you were the Number One St. Paul attendee of local music gigs at that club. I know for a fact you bought so many local albums that you had bags and boxes full of ‘em that you still hadn’t gotten around to opening—gotta support local music, you said. There’ll be plenty of time to sit around and play ’em all when we’re old.
I could list off a thousand more great memories of ’Zilla, but I’d rather get on with my own personal tribute to the man here at the house. I guess I’d just like to remind those of you who touched him, musically and personally, what a cool guy he was and how much he respected you and what you stand for: John Casey, Brad Savage, Brian Oake, Mary Lucia, Kevin Cole, Shawn Stewart, Peter Jesperson, Shelly Miller, Jim Walsh, Terry Katzman, Pete Lack and Troy Thompson, Gary H., Paul Westerberg, Mark Trehus, Bill DeVille, Gary Louris, Mei Young, Chris Osgood, Cave Man, Ryan Cameron, John Ewing, Conrad and all the staff at First Avenue, and every last one of you who still gives a good goddamn about good music, good friends, and good vibes—we lost one of the good ones on November 3rd; a bright light in the oncoming darkness, so take a moment and think a righteous thought for a guy who gave a lot of thought to you, and who went down fightin’.
Me, I’m gonna drink a case of beer, make ’Zilla one last mix tape for the road, then throw it on a bonfire along with a hefty sprig o’ pine and a copy of this column. It’ll be a lot colder winter this year without you, Todd. May the wind take your troubles away, my brother. I’ll miss you, but I know they must’ve needed you more somewhere else—maybe that Great Cosmic Rock ’N’ Roll Band finally recognized your talent and decided to cut you in on the action. Say hello to John, George, Jimi, Janis, Zappa, Joey and Dee Dee, and all the rest of our musical heroes. And remember that, to me, you’ll always be one too. “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . . it has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival.” —C.S. Lewis. Until next week—make yer own damn news. Peace, Love, And Rock ’N’ Roll.
*If you’d like to sign or view Toddzilla’s Legacy Guest Book online, go to http://www.legacy.com/twincities>http://www.legacy.com/twincities and enter “Kachinsky” in the “Search By” area.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d like to share your own ‘Zilla memories, send replies to: href=TMygunn777@aol.com>TMygunn777@aol.com.