The night that Joe Strummer died and I was hanging around backstage at House of Blues Anaheim.
This is when Social Distortion would do a run of 10-12 shows right around the holidays, a sort of OC punk advent calendar that everyone seemed to bitch about, yet it sold out every night.
I had cleaned out The Crowd’s dressing room of any remaining beer while they were on stage, the classic dickhead backstage move that I justified with the need to drink in Joe’s honor.
I walked down the hall swinging 2 warm Coronas like piss filled juggling pins, chuckling at the thought of Decker getting off stage to discover only Vitamin Waters left in their green room.
I caught sight of Mike Ness through an opened door.
He raised an eyebrow and nodded to me, though seemed to rightfully be prepared to run if I came any nearer, lest my drunkenness infect his hard-earned sobriety through sheer osmosis.
Then I saw Steve sitting in another open room, and he waved me over to chat.
And that’s how it always was when you saw him, the smile of mouth and eyes, a joke in greeting.
All of us, the characters that made up this zenith of So Ca punk, we all recognized the man at the very center.
The big guy we all circled, deserving of the very gravitational pull that brought you into his orbit.
I plopped down next to him and shook my head.
“Ah Soto, what a day.”
I was wallowing in my own pity for my hero’s passing, putting on the self-absorbed dramatics any proper drunk knows how to manipulate into just another excuse to have another shot.
“So tell me a story Steve,” I said. “Tell me a Joe story.”
And then he looked to the ceiling and smiled, rolling through that data bank of experiences. A lifetime of this music in every conceivable capacity.
He smiled then and turned to me. “Strummer or Ramone?”
For he did indeed have stories about either Joe.
With a Zelig-like ability to be there at all times, he had a story to tell of every gig and musician you knew, and loads more about the ones you did not.
You knew him, or course as Tony’s right hand man on that stage, the mighty foundation of The Adolescents.
Laying down the bottom end, yet sailing far above with the sweet high harmonies.
And then there was the stable of acts he held, always on hand to fill a rare open weekend night with a gig: Manic, Karaoke, Riders—etc.
And: tour managing, booking, studio cat.
Steve had excelled, it seemed, in every aspect of the music business:
make that the Music Life.
I’m in the studio, struggling with the punch ins: failing yet again to hit a common third.
The other guys have gone out for tacos, leaving poor Monroe alone in the booth to roll back time and again as I butcher the background vocals.
Take twelve and I throw up my hands.
Jim hits the talkback, but doesn’t say anything.
We look at each other, held in the silence, then nod as we both come upon the solution:
And a day later we are in the control room, Steve out alone at the mic.
He tells a long story about Gabby, then puts on the cans and spins a finger in the air: roll it.
And then, one pass, boom.
He nails the track, then goes back again and lays another harmony on top of that.
We roll through again, and he effortlessly weaves in and out of the track.
It’s done, and he takes off the headphones.
So one time, me and Stan– this was way out like off the coast of Italy….
A couple years ago we met up in Köln Germany.
A cracker for a Monday night gig, The Adolescents and TSOL, MDC and us.
We are all decades removed from those bratty awesome early days, now more concerned with the WiFi password and a tea kettle than pirating beers from each other.
I find a nice cool seat outside as everyone is packing up and Steve comes over to sit with me.
We chat between people coming up to talk to Steve, asking him for a selfie or just to shake that hand. My thumbprint is left on a dozen Iphones as I am asked to take their photo together, these people so happy just to be near him.
And he is happy too, out here on the road, his home.
We talk about the rest of their European tour, though he was out with CJ before this leg, hasn’t been home since Punk Rock Bowling.
“Dude. I don’t know how you do it,” I say. “That travel schedule–sheesh!”
“Yeah, but you guys with the wives and kids– see, I don’t have a dream killer, do I?”
And he laughs at the joke, because ever the romantic, he is in love with a girl back home.
He continues to travel, as he always has.
To be far away from us yet somehow still close.
He saw this life as just that: a dream.