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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenzi

(Re)Collection: Last Songs

Updated: Jun 13

I was talking the other day with my friend and bandmate Seth Kim-Cohen (Number One Cup, The Fire Show, Nil/Resplendent), and the subject of last songs on our records came up. I realized something interesting. The three bands are connected by two cover songs: You Are My Sunshine and Don't Let It Bring You Down. Here's how.

Number One Cup left for an 8 week US tour on New Year's Eve 1998 to support the LP People People Why Are We Fighting . That night's show was in Milwaukee. We opened for a band called PowerWagon which contained members of Killdozer. I don't remember much of the evening, but I do recall that we were not treated especially well. In fact, it seemed like a Tuesday night kind of show where the club made you pay for your beer. It was only slightly better than that. Our rider contained potato chips. That's it. An inauspicious beginning to a tough tour.

The band was breaking up before our eyes and no one was really ready to verbalize it and take the final step. Until one dreary night in Pensacola, Florida. We started to set up to play the show and the only person there was the sound man. Not unusual. By show time, there was one straggler. We started to play and the straggler left. Then the sound man left. We stopped playing.

This was how quite a few shows went on this tour. Oddly enough, I had high hopes for the record and the tour despite the fact that Seth had broken his neck playing hockey in the late summer of 1998 and it seemed like it was all over. Then he came back in a relatively quick three months and we had our record release party at Lounge Ax. I was suddenly hopeful that this was a good sign and that things were looking up.

After the show in Pensacola, we all drifted outside to load the van and push on to our next city. We were huddled outside in the drizzle talking and the subject came up that maybe we should quit. I don't know who broached the subject. It may have been Pat. There was a bit of back and forth and everyone got back into the van and drove on in silence. For the rest of the tour, it was like still living in the apartment you shared with your girlfriend after you had broken up. It was a little tense.

We did have some good shows. And we started to mess around with a cover of You Are My Sunshine at the end of some shows. I would kick over the drums to ice the cake. It was a ceremony of frustration and release. Feelings manifested in bittersweet destruction.

Number One Cup eventually rolled back in to Chicago, and we played our final show at Lounge Ax. It was a sad night. If I recall correctly, we ended with Neil Young's Hey Hey My My. Rock and roll will never die. The irony. Then I started singing You Are My Sunshine over the swells of feedback and noise pouring out of the guitar and bass amps. As I sang, I lifted up pieces of my drum set one by one and threw them forward or over my shoulder until nothing was left. Good night Chicago. (I have the footage somewhere and will share it when I get it transferred to digital.)

In the Fall of 1999, Seth and I formed the Fire Show. I switched to guitar from drums. We built a band. Fast forward three years to 2002, the Fire Show completed its third and final LP, Saint the Fire Show, and was set to embark on a final 7 week tour of the US. Seth had decided to move to London and go back to graduate school. The end of this band was less fraught than the previous break up, but I still felt that familiar futility, loneliness and resignation lurking in the shadows. The final song on Saint the Fire Show was You Are My Sunshine. It is the most mournful version of that song that I have ever heard.

One month before the tour was scheduled to commence, the Fire Show was reduced from a four piece to a two piece. Our drummer and bass player both quit. We decided to perform as a duo. We scrambled at the last minute to reconstruct our songs using looping pedals to layer parts and build the songs up each night. It was very tricky. At that point, the whole looping pedal thing was in its infancy. I handled the drums and singing and Seth did the rest. For the most part, we pulled it off. But it was stressful. I remember that I felt sick the whole tour. Nauseous and feverish. I lost a lot of weight. In retrospect, it was attributable to the stress of the tour. And the end of the group weighed heavily on me, too. I was losing my friend and bandmate of 10 years. Life was changing and I felt it deeply. End of an era.

We played our last show in Minneapolis and not Chicago this time. That seemed ok to me. I loved that city. Our show was at the 7th Street Entry. There was a good crowd there. Some nice fan even baked us a Fire Show-themed cake to mark the occasion. Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum showed up. After the show though. He was so drunk the bouncer kicked him out.

To close the show, we played Don't Let It Bring You Down by Neil Young. Mayhem ensued. We smashed up all our gear. I remember surfing on the back of my guitar and pulling my amp across stage by the guitar cable. It felt right. Gear is whatever. I have no problem destroying it. There are too many guitars in the world.

Fast forward again to 2015. Seth and his wife and daughter return to Chicago. He gets a teaching job at the Art Institute. We talk and decide to pick the music thing back up. We explored putting a band together, but we just couldn't make it work. It is a lot harder when you get older and have real jobs and family and far less time. I still make music almost every day but forming and running a band has eluded me.

Seth and I recorded songs both with other people and alone in my basement studio, Plastic Skull, but we were both unsatisfied with them. My tape machines broke one by one and we transferred over to digital recording on the computer. We recorded a set of songs that we wrote as we went. Those songs made it onto the Nil/Resplendent LP Lesser Free Trade which we just released in April of 2019 on In Situ/Sweet Pea. The final song on the record is a cover Neil Young's Don't Let It Bring You Down.

It is reassuring to me to have this through line--two melancholy covers to bridge the gaps.

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