This post is mostly just to start a thread for people to say what they want to say about Touch and Go. As you have likely already heard, the storied indie label announced yesterday that it will cease the distribution and manufacturing aspects of its business, long the lifeblood of many indie labels including Drag City, Kill Rock Stars and Flameshovel. The first headline I saw yesterday said "R.I.P. Touch and Go," which, thankfully, turned out to be an exaggeration. I sent an email to some friends, including Sooyoung Park, singer and guitarist for Seam, who put out a few of my favorite records on Touch and Go in the 1990s.
"Man that came out of nowhere," he said.
What follows is much more personal than I usually care to get on this here blog, so if that's not your kind of thing, then I'd skip it.
Above is a photo from the liner notes to Seam's final album, The Pace Is Glacial (TG175). Depending on when you bought the CD version, this may have appeared as the cover--one production run inserted the sleeves backward, and some online stores (and services) still use this as the cover image. The person you see walking down the sidewalk in the photo is my friend, Steven Pak.
I met Steven through the guys in Seam. (He and I both had had the unlikely good fortune of becoming friends with one of our favorite bands.) When I heard the news yesterday of Touch and Go's dramatic scaling back of operations, I thought immediately of my days in Chicago, when we were both part of a group of friends, seemingly all of whom had some connection to the label. It felt like family. As dorky as it sounds, I immediately changed my Facebook status yesterday to "lamenting the end of an era at Touch and Go," with a link to the Chicago Tribune blog post. Soon after, my friend Melissa, also part of the Seam posse back in the day, updated her status: "thinking of Steven." That's when I realized it was Steven's birthday. Or would have been.
Steven was one of the smartest people I've ever known, but almost always acted like a complete goof. "I come from peasant stock," he would say, as a way of explaining why he was so strong and could drink like a motherfucker. When he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma he had just turned 30 and just gotten engaged. He traveled to L.A. to see a specialist, and to rest. I called Melissa while she was visiting, and as she was about to hand him the phone, the doorbell rang and a group of friends rushed in to wish him well. I could hear him in the background saying his hellos, his childlike laugh pixelated by the cell phone's primitive microphone. I figured he was busy enough, and told Melissa I'd call him later. I never got that chance.
I know it's a coincidence that the Touch and Go announcement came when it did, but it reminds me, sharply, of how much music can carry with it. "Aloha Spirit" is the last song on the last Seam album. Every time I hear it, I also hear Steven's voice breaking up over choppy static, disappearing in a wash of digital noise as the signal, from tower to tower to tower, collapses into silence. He would have turned 36 yesterday.