Just a fantastic day yesterday. Within an hour of running out of the house to meet Chico, we were at 1990 William Street, walking into the rehearsal space as Carlos, Alex MacSween, Marc Donato, and John Kastner were getting set to jam. They were short a guitar amp, so Marc and I drove out to his place and picked up another Marshall. When we got back, they were just starting (can’t name the song), and I couldn’t believe how good it sounded. John K is doing Alex’s vocal style justice. I didn’t want to interrupt while they were playing, so I just lurked outside the space and listened intently. When it was over, I opened the door and just had to day “That was haunting.”, which was met by a few laughs and Carlos saying “What the hell were you doing outside, bro?”.
The Nils lineups are a credit to Alex. Ask anyone who worked with him and they’ll tell you how demanding Alex was, but how rewarding it was after all the hard work. If you weren’t a pro when you started with the Nils or Chino, you would be by the time he was through with you. So yesterday, three former Nils drummers (MacSween, Jean Lortie, and Eloi Bertholet), two former Nils bassists (Chico, Carlos), Alex’s favourite guitar man and close personal friend Marc Donato, and special guest John Kastner hammered out 12 songs and it sounds awesome. We were all surprised how well it went, and at times the emotion in the room was palpable. By the time the last song rehearsed was finished and done to near perfection, I was standing up with my arms stretched high and fists clenched, along with Chico’s wife Kara, just blown away by the performance. Four different Nils lineups will rock the Main Hall on Friday night. This is going to be a night to remember!
You know, the drugs were always part of the tragedy of the Nils and Alex’s life. No getting around that. For those of us close to him, the biggest problem is that it was only part of the story. You never get a sense of Alex’s professionalism, because how can a guy on drugs be professional, right? Well, Alex was a total professional as anyone who’s ever worked with him will attest to. He knew how he wanted his songs to be played, knew how he wanted them to sound. If you didn’t listen to him, you’d feel his wrath. The Nils lineups tomorrow night will prove that Alex always wanted to work with the best and commanded the utmost respect from those who worked with him.
The choice of rehearsal space turned out to have resonance with the past as Eloi was the first musician to move into that space, back in the summer of 1986. Chico, Alex and I had moved in together in Point. St. Charles while Eloi found this industrial space on William St. a few minutes walk away, with plans to make into a rehearsal space. Shortly after, Eloi wold be out of the band but the rehearsal space would evolve over the next few years until Eloi, due to family obligations, would have to leave it with someone else. I don’t know the name of the guy, but he turned all the unused loading docks into a kind of “Rock Motel” and did a pretty good job with it. Eloi’s two children were concieved at 1990 William Street. Eloi immediately understood the significance, remembering that summer. It was a critical summer in the Nils “family”. My father died that April, Alex and Carlos’s Dad had sold the house and was moving to L.A., and Carlos, Alex, and Chico had to find a place. It was a summer of huge changes in our lives. It was the end of our teenage years, my father died suddenly, and their Dad moved to the other side of the continent. Jean Lortie would make his debut with the Nils opening up for Soul Asylum at Club Soda, Alex met Karen and would be one of those absent roomates for a few months before moving out. Rick, Jim Hynes, Eric Kearns and I would hang out at that place on Grand Trunk in the Point, drinking plenty of beers from Sammy’s dep and listening to music and often hanging out with Sue Smith and Margaret. Heady days….