Torrington Stories

Five Easy Pieces

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My brother Patrick was smart.  That’s not the only quality Patrick possessed, he was exceptionally funny, he was generous, he loved music and he was creative and his friends knew there was not a better friend to be had than Patrick but if you were to going to describe Patrick as a person then it’s safe to say that the adjective “smart” was probably in the first sentence or two.  In elementary school he tested into the Arnone school “for the gifted” and then furthered his education at BC High where he attained multiple scholarships and followed that up at the University of Chicago, attending it almost entirely on scholarships.

I didn’t go to the Arnone school “for the gifted”, my test scores kept me in the regular public school. I did follow him to BC High but my scholarships were more ceremonial than monetary so my job at Burger King came in handy. For college, I too went to Chicago but it wasn’t the University of Chicago, I went to a smaller school at the northern end of the city.  The distance between the University of Chicago and Rogers Park Illinois was probably an hour long El ride with an additional bus at 55th and Garfield.

I benefited greatly from following Patrick through my school years because he was always well liked and had a core group of friends who remained his friends for life. When I arrived at our shared high school and then later the same city for undergraduate work, I benefited from his proximity while still maintaining the freedom to forge my own path. I was safe in the knowledge that if something went horribly wrong, there was a safety net there to catch me and, as is true with any double edged sword, I also had to make sure nothing went horribly wrong because Patrick had a face he could give me as the older brother that let me know instantly if I was treading too close to the moronic scale.

 

 

To travel between schools in Chicago, I would take the red line south.  At my school the El stop was right across the street from the Mertz dormitory so it was essentially as easy as just crossing the street to have full access to any adventure in the Windy City. Once a train reached the platform and I stepped on board, I would find a seat and settle in for the long trek.  I’d look out the window, taking interest especially when we passed Addison (the Wrigley Field stop) or Belmont (an eclectic location at the time).  The red line went through the city to the south side. I’d get off at the Garfield stop and then stand outside and wait for a bus to their campus.

One day my brother informed me that he had formed a band with some of his friends. Now I was the one who played guitar at home in Massachusetts. I was the one who was down there in the basement learning chords (badly) from a Mel Bay “Learn Guitar” book with Dad’s old guitar.  The effort had thus far provided only painful fingertips and a rudimentary versions of a blues riff and chords that approximated G, C and D but somehow I felt that was still “experience”.

Now here was Patrick telling me he had formed a band.

“You have a band?”

“Yes.”

“What do you play?”
“I sing. I’m the singer.”

“You’re the singer?”

“We have two lead vocals. I’m one of them.”

“….Ok. That’s cool.”

“We have a concert coming up, did you want to come?”

“You’re going to play a concert? Really? Sure, yeah.”

They called themselves “Five Easy Pieces” but there were six members in the band.  They had worked out some songs and were working on putting some of the songs on tape. The more details that came through, the more believable the story was to me and the mere fact of being invited to a party where my brother was part of the entertainment was pure gold.

Other than that I had no idea what to expect.

This was an age before karaoke, before people put music on the internet via youtube and it’s not like he would sing when we visited each other because when we visited each other, his band wasn’t there.

I could say I “made plans” to go to the show but at that age in college with no supervision it was probably something like five minutes before going to the El I put my toothbrush in a bag and then put the bag into my jacket pocket and then I made my way south to the Garfield stop on the redline. That’s presuming I remembered to bring a toothbrush.  I left with enough time to make it to the show but not too much time before the show so that he’d be forced to “entertain me” while waiting for the show.

There was excitement in the air that evening. I recall walking through campus and getting buzzed in at a dorm I didn’t recognize. Whether the band rehearsed right before the show or not I don’t recall. They may have rehearsed earlier in the day and I wasn’t there during the day to see. But I do remember being introduced to a few folks as the evenings’ festivities commenced.

The concert was in a community room but a better one than any community room I’d been to at Loyola. There were raised seating (like risers) and I sat on the top row. I didn’t know how many people would attend but the place filled up to capacity and possibly over capacity. The band took the stage with hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Then with a quick “thanks for coming”, the band launched into a rocking tune and they never let up.

This was the generation that loved rock and roll. The band members were of the era that read Rolling Stone magazine and read books about their favorite bands like The Who; they watched concert movies rented on VHS. The music culture was vastly different than it is today. This was the generation that actually bought music at the local “Strawberry’s” and they could afford tickets to regularly attend concerts from top tier acts. There was a deep, rich knowledge of the history that came with each song from classic acts. This love of music poured into each song they played and the audience reciprocated the love with cheers and applause.

Their music was somewhat reminiscent of REM, there was definitely a call and response between the two lead singers.  They had a full sound with drums, three guitars and two singers. There was a piano in the room but I don’t recall if it was played. What I recall is that they took to the stage and owned it.  They loved their audience and the audience loved them back.

And as a younger brother I witnessed my brother Patrick rise to the occasion. He was celebrated in a full house for something other than his intellect; he was celebrated for his passion. What an incredible experience.  When the set closed, they received an ovation like none that I have seen before or since perhaps because I was right along with them cheering exceptional talent that burst forth in a surprising and unexpected way.

Five Easy Pieces eventually recorded their “tape” and then they recorded some more songs before their group disbanded but that one night they captured the star they reached for and I was there to see it.

Patrick eventually went on to get a law degree and always used his intellect as a means to positively build his future. But he also bought an electric bass guitar.  And Heather, his beloved wife is now learning to play it. And one day maybe she, or his daughter Hailey or his son Patrick Jr may be inspired to form a band and then play a concert. And I hope I’m there to see it too.

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