Reading about people you didn’t know who are now gone can have its drawbacks…never having sat with or seen them…never occupying the same space…never having picked up on their subtle or their vivid candor…never having heard their bark… These are all potentially frustrating blocks to experiencing an individual through words or pages instead of in person. Writing down memories also puts me at risk of positioning from an ‘i was there, maan’ base line, which may be easier but can easily turn away a reader/listener. Luckily, as readers, we are granted with imaginations…I ramble…I am stating all of this to help remind myself that there really is no substitute for a person’s presence and that once they are no longer present all we have is what they gave us. Josh was a giver. The moment he died, he immediately dispersed into a billion particles that will float around in our perceptive minds as memories forever.
Below are some of those memories, hardly complete, about a departed friend, Josh Alper. He may have showed reluctance at times to do so, wrapping it up in self-deprecating wit, humility and reductionist humor; but if for anything, i remember him for his gifts. His endless musical endeavors, his nearly uncontrollable laughter at darkness and frivolous things. A kindred soul in our reactions to the impermanence of nature and the universe…wandering around Santa Cruz….night, drinking robo…wax about nonsense and importance….
I can’t remember the first time we met. My absorption into his band, Whysp, seemed so likely and natural and effortless from my end that I don’t even remember exactly when it happened or for how long or when it ended. Those times were all a blossom of creativity for me and i wouldn’t really know who I was today if I hadn’t been involved in this particular world. It must have been through our friend John Garmon, also a member of Whysp, who was letting me play guitar for his band Loyal Sons & Daughters…backing up time a bit….
I was a new arrival to the Santa Cruz “underground/indie” music community in 2001 having visited the previous summer. The first few shows I saw in SC were Comets on Fire ruin my ears at a cafe, Deerhoof bend time at a youth center, Glass Candy as a punk trio in a punk house, Ben Chasny stomp a tamborine to death at a house party and The Lowdown wearing white jumpsuits and projecting films on themselves. It may have been the next year or so when I saw Josh & Hugh from The Lowdown’s new psych-folk band Whysp play at a house party with Black Elf Speaks to about 20 people, no less than 3 being naked hippies. This, along with a LOT of other stuff that may or may not have grabbed my interest at the time was what was happening then; these were the groups playing in these crummy venues blowing us all away.
I had my sights set on playing guitar in a rock band and the aforementioned groups had lit a fire under my ass to get going. I wanted to make a record. In these immediate surroundings the biggest push and help to create my own music on my own terms came from 2 core duos. Josh Alper & Hugh Holden of Whysp/Lowdown. Ethan Miller & Ben Chasny of Comets on Fire/6 Organs. ‘Cept for Josh, I had worked with these guys at the local record shop and pizza dump, so I felt comfortable asking advice. Comets were the knuckle-dragging-retard-apes that showed me the extremes people would go to achieve some type of transcendence through sweat and volume. Whysp was the other side: peace-creep-forest-sprites painting the wooded landscapes with dusty melodies, slightly out-of-tuned to perfection. As a listener i never really knew how the songs would start or when they would end but it didn’t matter! Even once i joined, i didn’t know. I was a seedling figuring out a lot of things and these lads had let me into their creation w/out hesitation. it didn’t seem to matter if i hit a sour note or played out of time or attempted a vocal harmony or two. there were never any mean looks. I got to be in the band for the lesser part of a year, playing mostly percussion with the occasional guitar or casio.
My favorite show was with The Finches at an old farmhouse near campus that was occupied by trainhopper punker students. We didn’t use a PA, it was about as raw and open a performance as I’d been involved in at that point…all of us in a cluster…surrounded by the partygoers…singing and clapping and stomping and playing…a horse neighing from outside in between songs…steamy breathe visible in the bare-bulb light…the strangeness of sweat on the skin when the air is cold enough to make your teeth shiver…beautiful creatures…the music came from the wood and the steam, the dirt and the light, the hands and the feet, the heads and the souls… as I remember that night I can live on…
Only good memories of Mr. Alper. Hyperbole aside, he was the kind of guy that religions are based on. He was killed instantly riding his bicycle, by a motorist who fell asleep, crossed both lanes on Highway-1, and hit him head on.
I hope this finds you well, and I hope you know that you did more than your share of spreading the love…