The Remains’ self-titled debut LP, first issued in 1966 and given a deluxe two-disc treatment 30 years later.
Nothing quite makes you appreciate the timelessness and immortality of great music as the mortality of its makers. Only yesterday I was saying how fantastic and fresh the Remains’ self-titled 1966 debut LP sounds even now, nearly 50 years after its release.
The Boston band made only one record during its original run before calling it quits (the band subsequently re-grouped in the 2000s for a new album and has reunited sporadically since). But that one album, released on Epic in 1966, is an utterly fantastic rock and roll record. To my mind, it is one of the top ten American garage rock & roll records of the ’60s, and certainly one of the best, brightest debut LPs ever.
Then, not 24 hours later, I heard the news that the Remains’ drummer, Chip Damiani, died suddenly at age 69, and was struck anew by the relationship of time to music and vice versa. I thought about the first flush and thrill of hearing music we love instantly; how we talk, and think, about it; how we cherish and inhabit it (and how it inhabits us), and how it follows us through our lives. And how we remain forever excited by its ability to move us.
If the music’s good enough, and special enough, and dear enough, it has a magical ability to endure through the ages, both defining and transcending eras and experiences like some time-travel sleight of hand. But the death of the drummer or the singer, the guitarist or bassist, pianist or horn player who enables that magic, is always a sober, stark reminder that while the music itself may be infinite, they — and we — are not.
“We are very sad to tell you that our original, long time drummer, Chip Damiani, has died,” read a statement from Remains’ frontman Barry Tashian on the group’s official Facebook page. “He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Connecticut on Saturday night and life support was removed Sunday evening, February 23rd. Our hearts and condolences go out to the Damiani family; sons Chris and Michael and their mother, Marie. My brothers in the Remains, Vern Miller, Bill Briggs and I are in shock.
“Chip was the strongest member of the band,” Tashian continued. “This blow is extremely hard to reconcile. The only comforting fact is that he did not suffer much pain. Thank you for your consolation messages. We are very grateful for our time with Chip.”
The Boston University-bred Remains, formed in 1964, were one of the first bands to play the legendary Rathskeller (“The Rat”) in Kenmore Square in Boston. They began picking up fans and popularity early with their somehow simultaneously raw yet tightly polished sound (I know that doesn’t make sense but listen to their music and you’ll understand what I mean).
In short order, they got signed to Epic Records and, soon enough, landed a gig opening for the Beatles — yes, you read that right — at the Manning Bowl in Lynn. Remarkably (and stupefyingly), it would be their last gig for years. The Remains broke up before their debut album even came out.
Although I was barely alive back then and so wasn’t around to see them, I’ve often wondered if the Beatles too were impressed by how good they were.
A couple of years ago, I had the great good fortune to see and hear the group play live when I was covering the Boston Music Awards for the Boston Globe, and they were confirmed to make a rare live appearance together. I was on a very tight story filing deadline, and had spent much of the evening scrambling between rooms and floors of the downtown hotel where the awards ceremony and concert showcases were being held, catching as many of the bands’ and solo artists’ sets as I could absorb.
The Remains were going on late and last, of course. They were Boston legends, after all. The clock was ticking ever faster toward deadline. But I knew I had no choice but to wait it out. I decided to trade some critical writing time so I could finally, at long last, catch them — and write about them.
Then, all of a sudden it seemed, there they were, the Remains, materializing on stage and sounding utterly fantastic, utterly unchanged.
They may not have looked the same as they did on the old album covers, but they sounded not one day older than 1966. The seemingly mild-mannered, 60-something gentleman who, earlier, had been mingling in the crowd, politely watching and listening to the other bands less than half his age, was anything but mild at the microphone.
The paternal air Barry Tashian had exuded off-stage — like somebody’s mensch of a grandfather attending a school recital — was suddenly, immediately gone, sloughed off like a cozy cocoon being shed for a skin more brazen.
Now, in his stead stood a cool dude whose voice instantly inhabited the insolent snarl and sneer of a youthful, Them-era Van Morrison (think “Gloria”) or Mick Jagger at his most petulant. The band behind him was every bit as good.
It was a rare treat to hear one of the best (if under-heard and short-lived) ’60s rock & roll outfits ever plying their trade and showing the kids how it was done — and easily worth the blood pressure spike to get the story to my editor on time. Hell, who am I kidding? My blood pressure spiked along with my heartbeat when they lit into “Why Do I Cry.”
But don’t just take my word for it. When Epic/Legacy reissued The Remains’ 1966 album, journalist Mark Kemp had this to say in Paste magazine: “Had these Boston bad boys stuck it out beyond their 1966 debut, we might today be calling them—and not the Stones—the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. As it is, The Remains most certainly are America’s greatest lost band.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so won’t try. Instead, I’ll try to take comfort in the fact that although Mr. Damiani may be gone, his great group’s music indeed remains. And I’ll leave you with a look back from a band who told us not to.