5.23.2007

The Ladybug Transistor

My dear friend Kyle, Lisps emeritus and current Ladybug member, informed us on the road us of the tragic passing of San Fadyl, the drummer for Ladybug. I've posted below his letter remembering San.

Ladybug is performing tomorrow at Bowery, with Bowerbirds and Rosebuds, and their excellent new record is out June 5th on Merge.



Hey,
As some of you know, my friend and bandmate in the Ladybug Transistor, San
Fadyl, passed away on Wednesday. Some of you knew San better than I did,
some of you didn't know him at all, but I wanted to share my thoughts on San
as I knew him. I also posted this on the blog set up about him at
sanfadyl.blogspot.com.

Love,
Kyle

The first time I met San Fadyl I was late for rehearsal and he was already
behind the drumkit. It was the first practice for the recordings that would
be my first with The Ladybug Transistor and, as it turns out, San's last.
Six months before, Gary Olson, a guy I had known through friends and seen
play with Ladybug the one time I saw the band, years before at NYU, had
asked if I would ever come over to work on some music with him. I was
surprised and flattered by the offer, and even more surprised, really, as,
over the next couple of months, I became more and more involved with the
band.

I'm not sure when I even learned that the drummer was a guy named San who
lived in Switzerland. I do know that, on the day when I rushed down the
stairs of Gary's house, I had never seen a picture of San and I don't think
I knew that San wasn't actually FROM Switzerland, although maybe I did. So
obviously he made a surprising and distinct first visual impression. Look at
this short guy with unbelievably gorgeous hair and unbelievably gigantic
hands! And what a voice! And I'm almost positive he was wearing his novelty
DUNKIN DONUTS parody "FUCKIN GONUTS" shirt. We shook hands, I sat down at
the keyboards, and San counted off the song the rest of the assembled (Gary,
Ben, and Julia) were already working on, "Always on the Telephone."

This was one of the first songs I had worked on with Gary when we started
working together the previous autumn. The demo we had been doing was with a
little drum machine track, and did not even begin to prepare me for the
sound of this song as soon as San started drumming. I still distinctly
remember the feeling when we went into the first chorus, San switched to the
ride cymbal, and started playing the hi-hat (with "ching ring"!) on all (or,
actually what felt to me like way way way behing all) four beats. What a
feeling playing with this guy was!

So, my memory of this is slightly hazy, it might have actually been after a
different song, but I'm pretty sure that after we finished that very first
run-through of that song, Gary made a comment to San about something he had
been playing and San paused for a moment, then replied something like, "YES,
GAZA! I would be GLAD to do that! But, in THAT CASE, this will be my LAST
RECORD, as I am SICK to DEATH of playing this FUCKING TWEE MUSIC! FUCK!" I
was shocked, of course. After another song (again, slightly hazy memory of
this) Gary suggested that San try playing with brushes "to make it sound
like Fleetwood Mac", to which San replied, "Gary, if I had to choose between
sounding like Small FACES or the ZOMBIES, or FLEETWOOD MAC, I would NOT
choose FLEETWOOD FUCKING MAC!" These outbursts, I quickly came to
understand, were San's trademark, and his dedication to cranking them out
(with a truly breathtaking consistency), seemed to make them funnier and
funnier.

After that week of recordings, I was exchanging e-mails with Julia, and she
wrote something really good about this: "Wait until you tour with
San....then you'll have a wealth of San-isms on heavy rotation in your mind.
You too, will start speaking like a bougeouis raving lunatic. Resistence is
futile."

I thought again of the "bourgeouis raving lunatic" line when we were on tour
in Spain last November. San was talking politics with Andy the tour manager
and being typically radical in his indictments of the wealthy, the
corporations, the military-industrial complex, etc. Andy called him a
"champagne socialist," to which he shot back, "Yes, Andy, I am a champagne
FUCKING socialist! I live in FUCKING ZURICH!"

San's convictions, about politics and music mostly (OK, also sex and
relationships, chocolate, potato chips, the media...), were expressed with a
unbelievable vehemence. I think he really enjoyed overstating his case,
knowing the amusement it brought others. I remember when we played a show
without him, opening for the New Zealand jangle pop band the Bats at
Maxwell's in Hoboken, and he texted Gary something to the effect of, "Ah!
The Bats! The music I TRIED to ignore in New Zealand in the 80's! It's no
ELP or Genesis!"

San's specific devotion to the decidely unfashionable (ESPECIALLY in his
chosen circle of friends and musicians!) genre of progressive rock (note:
writing this to Genesis' "Duke", although I know San would have prefered
Gabriel-era Genesis, of course. Sorry, dude.) was representative of his
contrarian nature, but more importantly, his absolute devotion to the craft
of music. I mean, the only reason I can think of to, as San ACTUALLY did,
listen to Phil Collins' fusion side project Brand X, is the appreciation of
music being played at an incredibly high technical level by people who have
spent years honing their ability to do that.

But, in this musical regard, what was so amazing about San was that, unlike
so many musicians who achieve this high level of craft, he was totally
concentrated not on showy technical stuff, but on "GROOVE" and "FEEL," as he
was always happy to talk about. Recording with San, he rarely needed more
than one take to play his part flawlessly. BUT, if he did make mistake, he
would still listen carefully to the take, and if he liked the FEEL,
disregard the mistake in service of what he considered more important.

Truly amazing also, given San's near-perfection in recording and performing
(I still remember one of the rare onstage mistakes I ever saw him make,
miscounting a measure in "Telephone" in Goteborg, Sweden. Immediately after
the song, San audibly yelled, "FUUUUUCKKK!" And never made the mistake
again) was the fact that I don't think I ever saw him criticize anyone else
for making a mistake. In fact, I never even saw him get frustrated while the
rest of us struggled to figure out how to play songs that he could already
play perfectly time after time. This is a patience I've found in almost no
one else I've ever worked with.

In fact, San was probably the most supportive person I've ever played with.
I just found this e-mail, from right after the EP we did together was
finished, subject: "I'M SO PROUD OF YOU GUYS... :) from San in Swizzy."
(This e-mail also reminded me of the joke San had, early in our time playing
together, of writing "Who the fuck is Kyle?" or just a question mark,
everytime I came up). "Just letting you know, after listening to the
master(piece) EP, how proud I am to have played with all of you....
especially Kyle (?)... :) the EP was beautifully recorded, and all of you
played wonderfully in it." I still remember how good it felt to read that
the first time.

The warmth of his personality, as it came out in his e-mails (the most
amazing e-mails, by far, I've ever read, from anyone) and in person, was
really amazing. In a group of people with very complicated relationships, he
was above every conflict, the only person NO ONE had anything negative to
say about. He was fiercely protective of the people he cared about. I
remember recording something with him late at night. Gary was engineering.
He had just found some space on the tape, but there was a chance, if we went
longer than expected, we would tape over part of a song Julia had written.
San yelled, "Gary! Do NOT tape over JULIA'S SONG!" It was like wathching a
mother bear protect her young.

Something that I've been surprised by the last few hours I've sat here is
that the times I've gotten really choked up were when I was writing about
San as a musician. And I think that really would have pleased him. He was
one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, but when he was playing
the drums he brought out a beauty in the people he was playing with too, and
I will never forget that and will of course always think of him and try my
hardest to do the same.

1 comment:

Peter Chen said...

Hi Cesar,

Thanks for leaving a comment in my post Testing ways of making images uploaded via the photo upload icon in the Blogger post editor open in new windows. I have responded to your comment.

Peter (Blog*Star 2006 and 2007)
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