Sister Double Happiness: For Chris Takino
The habit formed when I was 19 and first living on my own. The dishes would pile up for a few days, and then I would turn to the stereo, play the loudest thing I could find — or the newest thing I hadn’t yet opened — and try to get them all done before I had to run to the other room and lift the needle, because I was and am a small kind of audiophile and have a totally manual turntable. In fact, I believe it’s the same turntable, all these years later. (I hate planned obsolescence, but you know that already.)
For many years the best thing to play was the first side of Slade Alive!. Goodness knows what the neighbors thought, but one was an alcoholic parking attendant who would routinely come home too drunk to get his keys in the front door, and the other was the family of the bouncer at the whorehouse across the alley, so they didn’t complain much.
* * *
Before the snows hit, I spent a week or so pulling together in odd moments the pieces of an hour-long radio show devoted to cowpunk. As I went searching for the right Jason & the Scorchers song (I didn’t find it, but did well enough, I hope), my fingers strayed across the back of an old favorite, the eponymous 1988 debut on SST from Sister Double Happiness. Because I hadn’t played it in years, and we had done a two-pager on lead singer Gary Floyd to draw attention to his solo career, and because this particular moment happened during a rare time when it was possible to play the stereo as loudly as one might wish, I put it on and skimmed through it. Nothing fit the radio show, but I ripped it and dumped it onto my iPod just to mix it in with the gospel and whatnot and torture the kids at the coffee shop. (I haven’t played “Poodle Dog” for them yet. Yet.)
Then the snows hit, and school stopped, and the juggling became more intense.
Last night it came time to do the dishes. My wife was answering e-mail, our daughter, in thrall to Percy Jackson, was busy designing a museum exhibit in her room honoring the Greek Gods. (Her room, just now, is a temple to Athena. She is not yet seven.) The iPod was handy, and my old habits called. Shuffle is an odious thing, but a tolerable game at such moments.
Up came “Sweet Talker.” Four times Maggie interrupted it to ask a question which could not wait, because she’s six and nothing is so important as the moment.
I was unnecessarily brusque with her.
All I could think of was a fellow named Chris Takino, who I knew slightly.
Chris died October 13, 2000, in Houston, of all places. Leukemia. He was 28.
* * *
At some point, presumably in 1989, Chris left his job at SST in Los Angeles and came north to Seattle. I do not know why. In 1989, on the West Coast, at least, SST was the coolest label ever. Soundgarden and Screaming Trees, from our neighborhood, started there. So did lots of others. Probably because our ad manager had dealt with him at SST, he came to work at The Rocket magazine as our receptionist. He didn’t stay long; Sub Pop, who were about to be the coolest record label, hired him away. By 1994 he and an ex-Sub Pop employee named Rich Jensen had started a label called Up. They released albums by Quasi, Built To Spill, and Modest Mouse.
I never got to know Chris well, and can imagine many reasons. He was a heavyset brown-skinned kid from Los Angeles who had been on the inside of punk rock for all the years I’d been listening to country, before I got dragged back in. So far as I know, Chris never went to college. He had to wear special shoes for some reason. I was a comfortable suburban music nerd who played basketball whenever possible (badly), and was by his standards, a dilettante. It didn’t matter, and I didn’t know at the time, but he was also gay.
None of which does a tolerable job describing Chris. I mean only to suggest that I think he was a brave man, that he fit himself carefully into settings that cannot have been easy, and I suspect he put up quietly with a lot of casual chat that may have been hurtful. Or stupid.
My office was just off the reception area. I have no idea what he thought of me, if he thought of me at all.
What I mean to say is this: Chris had the best ears of anybody I have met, at least up until I moved to Nashville. That includes Bruce and Jon at Sub Pop, who have fabulous ears and extraordinary self-made luck (of both kinds). They could find things which would sell, which were hip. Chris found music which was simply good.
This is before the internet, when the fax was a new invention that totally destroyed a freelance writer’s excuses for blowing deadlines. (Which I don’t do, and never have, just for the record. But I am, apparently, somewhat unusual in that regard.) I always felt like other people were tapped into a grapevine the nature of which I could only guess at. But he knew things.
And this: Chris was an unbelievably kind and gentle man. I aspire to being those things, but…
I think it is Chris’s voice leading into “Poodle Dog.” I can’t find the CD just now to see if he’s got a credit…it took me aback, though, typing this and hearing that. Even if it’s not him, it sounds like him.
That’s the thing, anyhow. Chris was a sweet guy, and I never felt like I was…worthy.
Memory says I encouraged him to write for us, once I slowly realized that he knew as much about music as anybody in the office, and more than most of us. Probably he did a couple things, but that wasn’t what his purpose was.
* * *
I didn’t know he was sick. Nobody told me, and the person who might have told me had fallen out of contact for silly reasons and many years. Not that I could have done anything. It was probably weeks after his passing that I heard.
It eats at me, every once in a while.
Nobody said it was fair, and none of it is.
Anyway. It was Chris who introduced me to the music of Sister Double Happiness. It is possible that he prevailed upon his friends at SST to send me a copy, or maybe not. I saw the band only once, either at the Off Ramp or at the horrid RKCNDY, which had attitude but toilets which flushed. Probably the Off Ramp. I remember walking up to Mr. Floyd and slapping his back — I must have had an extra beer, because I’m not that sort, and his nonverbals don’t welcome such intimacies — and said that he should tell his press folks the next time they came through I’d try to put them on the cover of our magazine.
I’m fairly sure he thought I was an idiot, or an asshole.
Which is probably why I remember it.
Can I tell you what a great album this is I’m listening to? Anger and blues and punk volume and sensible ebbs and flows of volume. And Floyd’s voice, a rough, impassioned, well-controlled beast of a thing.
Funny the things that touch you over time.