Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Nick Girgenti, 1969-2013

My friend Nick Girgenti died in his sleep two days after Christmas. He was 44.

Nick was born on Long Island and moved to Texas with his family when he was just a kid, but he still had the Lawn Guyland accent, even though he went to high school in Richardson. I figured out why when I heard his mom's voice on his answering machine.

We met in the spring of 1998, when I was trying to make a blues band with Hosea Robinson and Mitchell Hill. Hosea said he knew a bass player, a guy he worked with. That was Nick. Later on I found out that he'd never played bass before -- he was a guitar player -- and his favorite bands were the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Pearl Jam (the last probably a result of being stationed at McChord Air Force Base near Seattle when he was an in the Air Force -- something else we had in common).

I'd had a drunk driving charge in February '98, so I was on probation then. It was ironic that I wound up in a band with a bunch of guys that worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons the way Hosea, Nick, and Armando Natera (who replaced Mitch as the drummer in the Midnight Believers) did. It was an odd fit in more ways than one, but I'm glad Nick was there to keep the peace between Hosea and me when we butted heads.

I'm also glad Nick was there to keep me motivated a couple of bands later, when I was frustrated enough to quit playing, but he kept having ideas for bands that we could play in together. First we were going to make an alt-country band with his buddy Frank Logan. He gave me his copy of Wilco's Being There, which will ever remind me of Nick and the hours we spent sweating it out in the crummy rehearsal spot off Lancaster. (His wife Angie -- who carried amplifiers for our band before they were married; I told him, "Son, that's a keeper, there" -- informs me that he recently pronounced Wilco "the best band of our generation." No argument here.) I still remember a couple of Nick's songs from that band; I usually don't remember material for that long after the fact. Anyway, that venture ended when Nick hurt his back rescuing an inmate who was being beaten down by two other inmates. He didn't always talk about it, but I knew he had a high-stress career.

Then there was the band where Nick and I were both going to sing -- a mark of true desperation. By this time, our chops were so rusty that our hands hurt when we had to make barre chords. Around that time, my middle daughter came to live with me, and we started recruiting her friends to play with us. One of them wanted to be a singer but couldn't sing in key. We tried transposing keys, and had convinced ourselves that things were sounding better, enough to try recording some songs. When we heard the results, there was a lot of awkward silence, then we didn't speak to each other for six months.

When I got fired from RadioShack and was trying to sell myself to the local alt-weekly as a freelance music journo, some of the first stories I pitched to the editor were bands I'd heard about via Nick (Woodeye, the Hochimen); I knew beans about local rock music. He stayed in my corner, too. When I had to sell all of my musical equipment, he let me borrow a guitar and amp for a couple of years worth of gigs.

We stayed in touch, sporadically. I knew Nick had a couple of bands that played in the Stockyards, but I hadn't seen him in awhile when he hit me up last summer to see if he and Angie could go to the Fort Worth Weekly music awards ceremony, where I was being recognized. I told him it wasn't a public event, but I had a plus one, so he wound up being my ride that day. It kind of made sense for him to be there, since I couldn't have done a lot of the stuff I was being recognized for if not for him. We laughed a lot about old times, and talked about getting together with Armando to listen to some of our old recordings with Hosea. We figured it'd be after the first of the year. You just never know how much time you have left on the clock.

Hundreds of people attended Nick's memorial service at Greenwood. They spilled over from one chapel into another; some of the folks had to watch on CCTV. You got the feeling he was the glue that held a lot of groups of people together. I just remember a big-hearted kid who loved to make people laugh, and loved to play music. Who made the best peace, and never forgot a friend.


Blogger Linda said...

I am stunned to hear this. His wife worked as a temporary in my office a few times years ago, and we stay in touch a couple of times a year. I stumbled across your blog while searching for a photo of Tom Kellum, and read your post about B.D. Trail, which had photos Tom had provided you with. It was such an interesting post, I continued poking around, and noticed Nick's name. My heart goes out to Angie, a thousand times.

11:26 AM  

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