Damn my obsession with constant social media updates. Running sound for a corporate talking head is easy so, like a good ‘merican, I spend a fair amount of time on my phone. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a news item from Fat Wreck that said “In Memoriam: Tony Sly“. The idea of his death was so outside the realm of possibility (like, Narnia impossible) that my first thought was, “Oh, a new Tony Sly album or song called In Memoriam. Bitchin.” To my mounting shock, Tony Sly, skate-punk progenitor, one of the most honest and cathartic lyricists in music, has passed away at 41.
With tears brimming, I couldn’t help constantly refreshing the page. Post after post from friends and news organizations kept appearing, sharing emotions, photos and favorite songs. I was sitting in the middle of a meeting, barely maintaining. I couldn’t help but think of my connection with Tony Sly, through NUFAN, that very connection that makes music so special, and, through this piece, I just want to share a few of the reasons his existence has meant so much to me.
My first exposure to No Use For A Name came in the form of their track on Survival of the Fattest. Past my first listen, where all I thought I understood of the lyrics was “justified black guy”, I realized there was some pretty heavy subject matter on top of the astoundingly fast music. Wait a minute, you mean guys can be feminists? Amazing. As a teen bombarded with sexist 90s rap and misogynistic radio rock, this was a pretty novel concept. Through this initial exposure, I bought Leche Con Carne and grew with the band through the years, learning how to be a better musician and person at the same time. I learned that I should speak my mind and be objective about myself. Thank you, Tony, for being a stand up dude, a necessary example for a young punk like me.
Flash forward to 2009. The Feel Good Record of the Year had barely left my stereo since its release in ’08. What an amazing album! A return to form and sign of fantastic things to come. One night, I made a dumb and careless mistake that resulted in a DUI and totaling my car by getting hit by a light rail train while driving home. That No Use CD was playing when I got in the accident. That record is forever linked with that moment in my life and its a detail of that story I’ve rarely shared with anyone. Despite it’s associated trauma, I still say that album is one of the best the band ever made and will be a proud last testament to Tony Sly’s career with No Use For A Name.
The final time I saw him play was with NUFAN and Only Crime at Larimer Lounge, a small club venue in Denver. That show was one of the best of my life, up close and personal with one of the greats, getting annihilated in one of the best pits in memory, and I would say that regardless of today’s retrospection. The passion that emanated off the crowd was intoxicating. Though we were all a good deal older, there was no loss in energy and enthusiasm; the years spent together, No Use and us, only strengthened by our shared triumphs and defeats. Russ Rankin joined Tony to duet “Fairytale of New York” and it’s a performance I will never forget.
So here I am, still at work, getting ready to kick off the afternoon meeting, trying to pretend like everything is cool. I’ve gotta play some walk-in music so, before I kick it back over to the atrocious pop country on Pandora, I need to hear Tony Sly’s voice. At home, later, there will be a chance for beers and some kickass No Use For A Name records. For now, I cue up “Let It Slide” on my iPod and press play. This is for you, Tony.
Tony Sly 1970-2012