My reply to Concert Stories from my Punk Days: the one about the band who broke my heart
LisaAnnGallagher — First, I want to say that I appreciate that you’re a genuine fan of The Nils, and the article is best when you speak from your experience of seeing them back in the day, and your appreciation of the music. The problem is that much of the story is based on “multiple articles and blogs written about the band…”.
I knew Alex from the winter of ’82 until he died. We were best of friends. I went to high school with him, a short spell at a local college, went to all his shows, worked in the mail room of a bank with him for years (“Rock’n’Roll Banker” is a song for those years), and was even roommates with him and Chico for a short while. We grew up together and hoped to grow old together, but sadly, that wasn’t to be.
There’s so much that people don’t know, but worse than that, there’s so much that people think they know but don’t. And so much of the story is told by one person, and the same old myths are perpetuated with each article based on “multiple articles and blogs”.
Much remains unsaid (publicly) by those of us who wish to protect the guilty, innocent, and Alex’s memory. What is often forgotten or overlooked is that the night Alex died was a nightmare for the the person that survived it — Deb. Deb didn’t chase Alex “out of their apartment”. He fled because he fucked up in a way he couldn’t live with at that point in time. The truth is, he was literally out of his mind the night he took his life, having just shot up some kind of drug cocktail that wasn’t heroin. When you and others suggest that Deb “chased him out of their apartment”, you are actually hurting the person who did more for Alex than just about everyone. Every time that last night of Alex’s life comes up Deb’s name is dragged out as if she is responsible. The only thing Deb is responsible for is for loving Alex through thick and thin. I can tell you that Alex had many ups and downs in his life, but many of us had never seen him better than in the years he was with Deb. Tragically, difficult circumstances led Alex to a relapse in his last year, and relapses are the most dangerous time for drug users who have been clean for a spell. Yet, to paraphrase Alex, she is always stuck in his mud.
If you want a clue as to what went wrong that year, you have it already:
Then Alex decided to let Carlos join the band, and it all fell apart again.
“and often dated much older (and troubled) women”
Alex had three serious girlfriends in his life, Karin H (in college), Karen M, and Deb. Karin was his age, Karen M was quite a bit older (maybe 5 years?), and Deb quite a bit younger. So not sure where this “much older” bit comes from, but it just isn’t true. What is true is that Alex attracted people who wanted to take care of him, friends and girlfriends alike. It’s hard to say why that is, and it may well be “mommy issues”, I don’t know.
Nor would I say he dated “troubled” women, because I know that Karin H and Deb were not and are not troubled. Alex was troubled, and the relationship between he and Karen was troubled, no question. How could it not be when they’d been using heroin together since the beginning of their relationship? He started seeing her when he was 20, and over that time he had a more or less continuous relationship with heroin and Karen until he hit bottom in ’96, and the process of cleaning up got underway
“The Nils were formed in 1978, in Montreal, by brothers Alex and Carlos Soria.”
The “brothers” were never the core of The Nils. I understand that this is one of those persistent myths, but the truth is that the first Nils show was in 1980 and the three piece band was Alex Soria on guitar and vocals, Guy Caron on bass, and Terry Toner on drums. That was the original core. Alex and Guy were 16, and Terry was and undersized 14 year old.
Just about all the songs were written by Alex alone, and Carlos only started playing with Alex after BYO recorded “Scratches and Needles” for the BYO compilation. I believe Carlos’s first show with The Nils was in the fall of ’84, playing bass. Alex and Chico were inseparable until Chico took a spell away from the band in ’84. When Chico came back, he played bass and Carlos played 2nd guitar.
It’s not an understatement to say that Alex was always the core of any band he played with. While many of his songs are credited to “A Soria/C Soria”, this is a lie that unfortunately Alex took part in. Anyone who knew Alex will tell you that. Alex was the songwriter, and he was a fantastic talent, but there was no partnership with Carlos. Rather, Alex saw his band members all playing a role in the crafting of these songs, but everyone knows they were his songs. And he hardly wrote a bad one!
Now, there’s still stuff I like in your piece, now that I’ve got all that out of the way. This really stands out for me:
The Nils, in contrast, wore plaid shirts and t-shirts, ripped and dirty jeans, Converse hightops and baseball caps. They looked like us. They looked like a crystal ball of the near future: Seattle, 1991.
A perfect image of them, and so true about “Seattle, 1991”! And I really like how you went to see The Godfathers, who I agree were terrible, but came out loving The Nils. No doubt they were the real deal, and I think most of us knew The Godfathers were never going to be anything.
And well said when you say that Alex “cut an intriguing figure. His lyrics were redolent with confusion and angst and bittersweet longings.”. Indeed they were! And English wasn’t even his mother tongue, since Spanish was what they spoke at home. I’ve wondered if this combination of speaking Spanish at home, and English in school and with friends, contributed to his lyrical talent in English. Of course, he had a natural talent to begin with, but he often enjoyed combining certain words in English in way that might not have occurred to native English speakers. We were big fans of LA’s The Plugz, and Tito Larriva also had a similar way with his lyrics.
Almost done here, but will finish by saying that the Chino years are actually my favourite years watching and listening to Alex. Long-time fans like Jack Rabid will tell you that the recordings we have of The Nils don’t come close to capturing how great they could be. It was always a case of great songs transcending mediocre to poor production. But Chino’s Mala Leche is probably the best recording Alex ever put his name to, and for that we have Woody Whelan, Eric Kearns, and Mike Willis to thank for that.
There’s a very badly put together posthumously released LP called “It Must Be Something…” which I recommend to those fans of Alex’s work who want to hear what he was doing after the glory days of The Nils. It’s a really mixed-up release, and gives us no idea of the source recordings and who was playing what and even has mis-titled songs and numerous spelling mistakes. But the songs? So great. Some really good recordings of songs we know, and even a couple most people don’t.
Finally, thanks for giving me a chance to correct the record, and add my own thoughts on the tragedy and pain that surrounds Alex. He was my friend, and I truly loved him like a brother.