Another of a Million (Part VII - And That Was It)

Continued from Part VI Track 12: “Jimmy” (3:30) Jesus Clip · Self-Titled EP · Internal Groove Records

It was a tragic car accident that took the life of UNH student Christopher Scarpino over this past summer. The musician, noted for his incredible dedication and inspiring humor, will live on through his music and the memories he has left imprinted on the hearts and minds of his best friends. Scarpino, 19, died August 12 in a head-on collision with a Winnebago on U.S. Route 1 in Machias, Maine.

Excerpted from "Student-Musician Dies In Auto Accident," The New Hampshire, September 8, 1995

There it was, on the first page of the very first issue on the pile. I gave the librarian a dollar for some photocopies, and headed back out into the August heat. It was starting to rain.

Jennie O'Keefe told me by accident. Poor girl, she thought everybody knew. She was just trying to get rehearsal underway. The play was a one act, Edward Albee's "The Sandbox," and was part of a show being put on for the incoming freshman class. If there's one thing eighteen-year-olds want to do during their first weekend of college, it's take in a heavily metaphoric examination of aging and mortality. Two weeks before the start of the semester, the cast convened in the empty theater building to rehearse. Jennie was the director and organizer, because she was good at that sort of thing. Kind of a bizarro Charlie Brown.

It was to be my very first speaking role.

I played the angel of death. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I have no idea why she even brought it up. Was it because he was supposed to do tech for the show? All I remember is that she stood up in front of the group, waited a moment for conversation to die down, and started saying the various things directors say when a production begins. I leaned my chair on its back legs, rocking absent-mindedly. Then she just sort of said it. "Now, unfortunately, as you've probably heard, Chris Scarpino died in a car accident over the summer, so—"

It remains the single most distinctive shock of my life. Nothing has ever blind-sided me that badly. Dad's death had been gradual, something my family knew was coming for months. This was different. I bolted forward in the chair and bellowed, "WHAT??" It was a cartoon reaction, keened from a high-pitched, childish register. You'll never believe this, but the room went quiet. Jesus Christ, I must have startled the shit out of them. Surely they all stared at me, but my whole attention was fixed on Jennie, waiting to discover the finer points of just what in the hell she was talking about. She clearly felt terrible about it, and tried to explain what little she'd heard. She asked if I needed to step out for a while. To the best of recollection, I sat right there. Jennie and the cast awkwardly discussed the play, and not a word of it came near me. I just didn't get it. How was I just hearing about this now? Why they had all heard already? Didn't they know I was the drummer for Jesus Clip? Didn't they know we totally had five songs?

Part of me wanted to avoid Will for the rest of time, to drift away and pretend that none of it had ever happened. But even if I'd had the guts to be that cowardly, it was way too late to change dorms. Jesus Clip would still live in Eaton House, minus the guy who mattered. When everyone arrived with their duffel bags and plastic milk crates full of books, I finally ran into him. He told me some of the details, not a lot. A collision on the highway. Chris hadn't been the only fatality. No, it wasn't alcohol. The funeral was ... well, you know how funerals are. Will seemed numb, his voice a low rumble that sounded like it came from the bottom of a well.

It'd be pretty great to say that I remained close friends with Will and Steve, but the truth is that I did manage to drift away. Theater started to take up most of my time, and whatever was left went to improv. I only went back to the dorm to sleep. Sitting for the newspaper interview was the last thing the three of us did together. We'd say hi in the hallways, maybe stop for a quick "How's it going?"

And that was pretty much it.

Six months later, during Spring Fling, I was woken up early on a Saturday by some band's punk cover of "Boys Don't Cry." They were playing on the same spot we'd played the year before. You'd think I'd have seen them as comrades-in-arms, but mostly it just pissed me off. Trying to sleep here, guys. Jesus.

Many of my UNH friends have remained with me in the fourteen years since I graduated. Every now and then I'll say to one, "Hey, did I ever tell you about the store?" And they have no idea what I'm talking about. At the time, they probably didn't even know I was in a band. My tendency to compartmentalize my life meant that those three guys — Chris Scarpino, Will Edwards, and Steve Knecht — were the only people who tapped into that experience at all, and within a couple months they were ghosts in my past. Look, I'm not saying we were Joy Division, snuffed out on the eve of greatness. But for a few moments in that empty little store, we were a band. Give the kid credit for that much. He wanted a band, and he got one.

When I started writing this thing last August, I was convinced the details were etched in copper, hanging in a museum. All I needed to do was stroll past them. But too many of the details are floating in watercolor, and lose shape the closer I look. That Chris should be one of those details is an act of brutality. It has to be some kind of mistake. It's a clerical error, a misplaced decimal point or some shit. He's here somewhere. He started a record label, or got into producing. Maybe he's touring. He's playing some club tonight, and knows the bartenders' names. He works at a web design firm that handles artist sites. He books musical guests for Jimmy Fallon. He's one of the song analysts at Pandora. He’s heading to SXSW, because he hasn’t been in a few years. The sound system in his apartment is amazing. He has a stack of notebooks full of lyrics. He wrote some songs that are going to be featured on the soundtrack for Edgar Wright's next movie. He found me on Facebook and tagged a few old pictures of us playing at The Elvis Room, or T.T. the Bear's, or The Paradise. He writes a pretty good blog about indie music.

He's doing something. Because this? This can't be right. It just can't be.