Thursday, July 8, 2010

R.I.P. Old Friend

Today brings both reflection and remembrance... As we go through life, our social skills unintentionally cause us to become somewhat selective and categorical about the people we call "friends". You have your work buddies, family, neighbors, roommates, school pals from back in the day, people at the Kroger that you just sorta "know", etc. etc. whatever. It's weird when these categories intersect, we've all had those moments where we're hanging out with our social friends and we recognize our co-worker at the bar. Ugh. Put out the smoke, check please and I gotta roll. To advance the idea to a more seasonable level, it's interesting to ponder the fate of all of these relationships when you make what the insurance companies call a "life-changing event" (changing jobs, moving, having a kid, picking a different bar to hang out) and those BFF's are no longer an instantly intimate part of your life.

To make a short point long, it's at those "events" when you realize (and unconsciously select) who your true friends are. How many of you still hang out with your highschool buddies? Is it because those relationships were so tight that they stood the test of time or that you've simply never left your hometown? Looking over the 35+ years of my life, it's odd to compare the amount of people I've considered friends (even "good" friends) to the number I'm in relatively frequent touch with today. And I'm not talking about checking someone's "wall" on Facebook or whatever, I mean real interaction. I guess it's just those strange, special relationships that hold strong through time and can handle the physical distances (the typical "we pick up right where we left off" cross-country pal) tend to mature as the people involved do the same. I have friends who were my self-destructive drinking buddies back in college who are now fellow parents. And we still get along great. That's the test of a true friendship.

On July 8, 2009, a true friend of mine passed away. Daniel Frouman.

As with most friends, I met him completely at random. Moving to Austin, TX on a whim in my early 20's, I rented a room in some 70's-decor rancher on the south side of the city. Owned by a nice (albeit strange, moody and probably clinically insane) alcoholic ex-hippy nicknamed "Crazy Bill," the rent was a mere $125 month-to-month. Three roommates: two lived in other rooms in the house and the third had converted the garage into a kind of cave-like den. Since it was a garage he only payed $75 a month. This was Daniel.

I was a complete outsider in Austin. Didn't know anyone. A suburbanite from New Jersey who had recently graduated from college and was "finding himself" (or whatever) by taking off and setting up camp across the country. The first roommate I met was Daniel. Quiet and soft-spoken, we exchanged the basic pleasantries and that was that. I left feeling like he thought I was some type of narc. Years later, once I knew the trials he had been through with his family, I would understand the reasons behind his initial trepidation about "the new guy." Yet by the next time we stumbled into each other he was talking to me as if I were a long-lost brother, passing the beers and whatever else around. He introduced me to the other guys in the house as well as Crazy Bill. Man, what a relief! I knew I had lucked into a sweet place to crash.

I lived at the ranch for about a year and during that time became great friends with the guy. Not only was he "cool," he was incredibly interesting; possessed an amazing shitload of stories for someone who was only 22. He had lived across South America, was chased up to the States by members of a familial cult he escaped, acted as a ball boy for Argentina's world-renowned soccer team, and had a musical sense and could play guitar like no one I'd ever met (then or since). He was supremely mellow yet slyly sarcastic and was a lot of fun to hang out with. Although not one to really raise his voice, he was incredibly intense, as if he didn't feel like wasting words on unimportant stuff. Daniel was definitely a guy you could learn from. We partied throughout that year without worrying about money or jobs or any real responsibilities whatsoever. Credit cards and pawn shops were our cash, Lone Star tall boys were our daily drunk. Stumbling out of bars, sleepless night of continuous partying and music, waking up in a stalled Volvo on the I-35 median, it was an absolute whirlwind of a time.

After a year or so, Crazy Bill wanted to move back into the house. He had been living in the "Love Shack" - a homemade one-room box he shared in the backyard with his giant black poodle and whatever woman he could grab at local swinger parties. It fit a king-size bed and nothing else, scavenged electricity from the house via a web of extension cords and had no running water (let's just say Bill's garden never lacked fresh manure). I guess the novelty of his "living off the land" project had waned and he was ready for stained shag carpeting under his feet once again. Suddenly, the rent went up and we now had our quasi-psycho landlord living with us. Within a week Daniel and I split for another apartment.

For another six months or so we stayed roommates. We rented a tiny cookie-cutter apartment that barely fit the both of us but blissfully had A/C. I never got the feeling he was completely happy there. Being at Bill's gave him some anonymity (especially from the cult folk he worried were after him); now he was on a lease, bills were in his name, etc. There were people below and next to us who would complain if we played guitar too loud. Not enough room inside for people to hang out. No yard. It was the typical starter apartment for someone starting out in the typical working world. He wanted no part of it.

At the same time I was ready to move out as well, but for different reasons. The apartment had unintentionally given me enough of a snapshot into my next phase of my life. My two years of fucking around in Texas was coming to a close. Without knowing it I had gotten sucked into the real world, found a new job on the East Coast, and was moving out. Over time I've recognized that decision as the biggest crossroad in my life. It was the true beginning of my current lot and it's strange to look back and realize it was made (rather impulsively, I may add) by a usually drunk, impetuous and supremely overconfident 24-year old. As the years have passed I've both been regretful and relived that I left Austin. Losing Daniel as a roommate and nearby friend is easily the biggest sorrow.

I helped Daniel move back to Bill's, saw him a few times over those last days and left Texas abruptly. We kept in touch sporadically over the years, firstly through letters and phone; then emails and internet as the technology arrived. Still incessantly calling me "my brotha," I was happy to learn he had started college and stuck with it, over the years I was even more impressed that he decided to go to medical school. Always affable and supportive as I spoke of the hits and misses in my life, there was never any criticism in his candor - in fact it was always the opposite. He had had a bad bike accident that challenged the future of his music playing, however his guitar playing turned out to be the exact rehabilitation his injured hand needed. Positive, positive vibes from the guy on every level. I tried to rendezvous with him a couple times during visits to Austin, unfortunately all attempts ended as nothing more then some cell phone calls and conflicting schedules. No problem, I always figured, we'd catch up at some point....

One year later all I am left with now are the memories and the music...

It is one of the real treasures Daniel brought to my life. I have always been rather picky, eccentric and private about my musical tastes, yet it was easy to open up and play the guy the most fucked-up shit in my collection. Never judging, Daniel happily gave me the skills and knowledge to not only play the stuff myself but appreciate other genres I wouldn't have necessarily liked.

When it comes down to it, music-wise, Daniel was a genius. One of those self-taught protégés who was born with a groove, he had started playing guitar as a 3-year old peddling for coins on the streets of Argentina (how can you say "no" to a kid strumming "Bringing In The Sheaves?") The guy didn't just teach me guitar, he taught me about the guitar. And he didn't stop there. He taught me how to play drums, work 4-tracks, record effects, write music... the list goes on and on. Very confident and comfortable with his skills and instruments, Daniel made a great teacher.

The band he was in during my tenure at the ranch was a funky, jazzy, hip-hop-ish outfit called Sci-Fly. They played some real groovin' funk, very influenced by old Stevie Wonder and Parliament. After the dissolution of the group Daniel continued to record similar-sounding stuff, bypassing the need for a band and playing all the instruments himself. Throughout our later correspondence he would send tapes through the mail containing both new recordings and tweaked older stuff. He had no problem finding guest vocalists and musicians, almost everyone who knew Daniel regarded him as "the guy I've got to play with sometime."

So here are those tapes, broken into 3 CDs which span the years as best as I could arrange. Disc 1 includes Sci-Fly stuff (a live jam and demo tape) as well as some post Sci-Fly musical projects with guys from the band. Disc 2 opens with a hilarious recording Daniel made with his father (which at times he completely disowned) as well as long, bare-bone recordings of what would eventually turn into Disc 3, his solo album The Funk Is Free. New songs and re-recorded stuff, I lost his tracklist long ago so I gave the songs somewhat generic names. They are m4a's ripped through iTunes, reduced to 128kbps so the .zip file would be somewhat manageable. I tried my best to upgrade the sound quality but the analog limitations of over-played (and over-dubbed) cassettes is impossible to erase. Imagine you are playing the songs through your blown-out Sanyo cassette deck and the hiss will be a lot more palatable. The tracks are soulful and jazzy, funky and deep. Whether playing his Gibson or his Rhodes, Daniel had the knack for a good groove. He could make the music funny, fearsome or funky - I'm honored to have been there when he recorded the stuff and that he thought enough of me to send the finalized tracks years later.

Check out the songs and enjoy. I've included the front artwork files in this post but for the backs of the album covers (and all of the other images spoken about here) check out this folder. (P.S. I know I've labeled their flutist Danny Anonymous but that was only because I couldn't remember his last name - it's actually Danny Krashen - sorry dude!)

Additionally, I thought it would be fun to scan in a couple of ancient Sci-Fly flyers that I unearthed. Might have been all of their gigs, I can't remember. Check out versions 1, 2 and 3. Artwork by Roman.

Rest In Peace Daniel. Miss you man. Thank you for helping make living in Austin one of the best times of my life. The funk IS free my brotha.

Disc 1                                Disc 2                                Disc 3


Peter Frouman said...

I noticed the link above is no longer working for some reason but the music it once contained can be found at

winston95 said...

Thanks Peter! I fixed my link as well. Hope you are well, I think of Daniel often.