Saturday, March 16, 2019

John Kilzer | Lefsetz Letter

Now his memory has been made.


I was going to write this last night, after being shocked by the passing of Kilzer. His track “Memory In The Making” goes through my brain on a regular basis. There are a handful of tracks like this, ones that not everybody knows, but are embedded in your brain and pop up now and again and are on endless repeat for a few days.

But the album was not on Spotify.

So I checked Apple and Amazon, not there either. Nor Deezer Premium, which sometimes has different stuff because of European rules.

And I could find “Memory In The Making” on YouTube, but it didn’t have the richness of the original track, so…

I decided to look for the CD. Which is quite an effort in my house. Even after selling thousands there are still thousands left, and fewer than four digits are alphabetized. But there it was, under “K,” and I cracked the case which was worse for wear with its yellowed booklet and…

Turned on the amp and the CD player.

These are things I do rarely. Shortly after buying the NAD, the digital revolution in music occurred. I got the CD player a few years earlier, but…

Neither of my computers have CD drives. I was forced to power up the big rig.

And being late at night, I decided to listen on headphones. I broke out a pair of Sennheisers and the cord was long enough but the volume…

You see I decided to plug it directly into the Sony. Yup, this is the last CD player I’ll ever need. You put a weight on top of the disc, the disc moves not the laser. But I needed to control the volume with the remote and…

The remote didn’t work.

I figured it was a battery problem.

First I had to check if I had any AAs, everything is AAAs these days. But I had a pair. And then I pried off the cover of the remote and…

I was confronted with corrosion. The batteries had leaked. Wasn’t this why you bought Duracells, so this wouldn’t happen?

And my OCD flared up. I remember those batteries I had in my BMW 2002. They’d crap out every two or three years. I’d have to clean the battery posts to get the car to start. That’s where I learned the acid could burn you, because it did.

So I wanted to clean the battery compartment without ruining it. I’m delicate, but I oftentimes overdo it, to the item’s and my detriment. And it was a hard job. Took half an hour. I lost my appetite, and my interest in writing about John Kilzer. I was confronted with the passage of time.

This album came out thirty one years ago. Chances were Sony no longer stocked the remote. I saw my entire life in the rearview mirror. When you’re a kid products are history in a few years, an oldster keeps his stuff forever.

And after inserting new batteries, the remote…DIDN’T WORK!

I was deflated, after cleaning it with a paper clip and an old toothbrush.

Maybe I was out of range, maybe it was the angle I used it at, but no…nothing seemed to matter, it wouldn’t work.

So I removed the cover and checked the inside and still saw corrosion and checked that the batteries were installed in the right direction and…NOTHING!

And then I rotated the new Duracells and…IT WORKED!

But then I gave up. It was too depressing…trying stuff and having it not work. I confront this every day. There’s no tech help, replacement is easier than repair and life is imperfect, full of challenges, but hard to accept in this world of zeros and ones.


I went to lunch with John Kalodner. I played him Shawn Colvin’s yet to be released “Steady On” and he was not impressed, even though he ended up helping her get Grammys when he moved on to Columbia.

And after lunch at the Palm, where Kalodner had his skinless chicken as usual, we went back to the office and…

He opened the closet.

This used to be a feature of going to the office. We were record junkies. Discs and tapes fueled our habit. You didn’t want to be greedy, but this was back when music was scarce. If you didn’t take it, you might not ever hear it.

This was also when if a label signed it, it was worth hearing, even if it wasn’t a hit. Especially at Warner Brothers and Geffen.

And speaking of Warner Brothers, I was at the ski lodge shortly thereafter having lunch with Jeff Gold and in the closet I found Rhino Bucket’s debut, a band I hadn’t even heard of, it’s the best AC/DC album since “For Those About To Rock…”

And it was there, that day with Kalodner, that I took John Kilzer’s “Memory In The Making.” I think Zutaut had signed it, but I took both the cassette and the CD. The CD for home, and the cassette for the car.


And sometimes when I wake up in the morning
I sense her ghost on my pillow forming
Incense of imprints that leave me breathless

When I bought that BMW, which I drove for twenty years, I was debating whether to install an aftermarket stereo, like I had in my 2002. And my shrink at the time opened his mouth, I figured he was gonna put me down, which he eventually was prone to do, and said…

“One of the things you like to do most is drive around and listen to music. For someone else it’s an extravagance, but for you it’s a necessity!”

So I drove the car directly from Santa Monica BMW to Auto Stereo Warehouse on Beverly and dropped $2600 on ADS amps and speakers all around, with the best Alpine head unit. Boy did that stereo wail.

But that was back in ’85, at this point in ’89, my ex had just moved out. This was about fifteen months before I completely ran out of money. I’d drive that car and listen to…

The John Kilzer cassette.

The above lyrics are from the opening track on side two, “Loaded Dice.”

But the lines I sang along with were…

I can’t take no more of this baby

My internal angst, and her come and go, saying maybe we could live separately and still be married.


I can’t take any more disappointments
I can’t take any more disappointments, baby

Like the song said, I didn’t know what to do with these feelings. It’s taken decades for me to find a place for them.


And then the radio got stolen.

It was not like today. When things work for a long time. This Alpine went on the fritz and needed to be replaced. For $500 I got a removable unit. This was back when they still stole car stereos, in the 2002 I lost five, before they switched to airbags, before it became about online scams.

To tell you the truth…

I didn’t remove it every time I left the car. I learned to do this.

I was just running in for a minute, which turned into about ten, but when I came back the glass was smashed and the radio was gone.

First I had to get the glass replaced. You can’t drive a car, never mind a BMW, anywhere with an open window.

And after getting that done…

I had no money for a new radio. I drove around in silence for a couple of months until my father gave me $500 for a new unit. The only good thing was I didn’t have to pay an installation fee, I just slid the new radio into the old frame.

But what I didn’t tell you was the cassette in the radio when it was stolen was…

John Kilzer’s “Memory In The Making.”


Once again, this was when music was scarce. You knew the music in your car by heart. Your glove box was filled with cassettes. It wasn’t until about five years hence that CD changers in the trunk became de rigueur.


Today you’re not impressed if someone makes a record. But back then, to get over the transom, to get a deal, was a really big thing.

And these were not the days of the internet, when information was available at our fingertips. Rather, we got stories in the rock press and…

Kilzer was definitely making rock music. With guitars. He played basketball in Memphis, had taught school, and now he was a musician. His voice wasn’t the best, but it was more than serviceable, and the tracks sizzled, I was hooked.

But the second LP, “Busman’s Holiday,” wasn’t as good.

And then Kilzer disappeared.

We heard he had substance abuse problems.

He became a pastor, and then he started making music again. But sans the major label budget…you could hear the difference. I feel the same way about James McMurtry. Live, it doesn’t make any difference. But on wax, all that money does.


Now the track on MTV, however briefly, was “Red Blue Jeans,” which was too generic to make an impression, launch a career, it’s better to come from left field.

And “Memory In The Making” is not one of those unheralded albums that’s phenomenal from start to finish, although to say it’s uneven would be too negative. But there were other memorable tracks on the LP, like “If Sidewalks Talked.” This was back when your LP was a statement of your identity, you’d waited this long, you might as well record what you want to. This was long before the endless wash of music, most of it me-too, when musicians were still considered artists and some in the straight world thought them so.

But “Memory In The Making” is most memorable for its title track.


Throwing roses at the moon
Overdosing on perfume
That arises from your picture
An inviolate fixture

Most rockers got soft at times. Albums had ballads, which were oftentimes the best cuts, even though the hair bands overdid it in search of a hit.

“Memory In The Making” is the type of track you’d hear on AC radio if there were any justice. It’s perfect for Sirius XM’s Bridge, but they only play songs you know by heart.

This is more than I expected
It’s as though I have erected
A mausoleum for my heart babe
I’ve reserved the best part babe

Men are the romantics. They suffer in silence. Oftentimes women don’t know about the crush, see the interaction as a minor fling, but to a man it’s everything. The music filled the space in a man’s heart where the love should go, welcome to the world of rock. You mind-melded with the artist. It wasn’t about bumping asses, it wasn’t about partying so much as feeling rooted, connected, with this music you could make it through.

Guess it only stands to reason
There’s a time and a season
A place and a purpose
I guess that verse don’t include us


Now that he’s gone don’t expect a huge bump in sales/streams for Kilzer. First and foremost, like I said you can’t stream or buy “Memory In The Making.” He’s gone. Floating off into the ether like the rest of our memories.

We lived for this music, it was everything. And then, while we were fighting the battles of the internet, it evaporated. We can go to see our heroes of yore, but something has shifted, it’s not like it used to be, and it’s not like sports, the game has definitely changed and it doesn’t include us.


We used to buy guitars, we used to go out to feel and hear the sound. Our record collections were our most treasured possessions. And within those tracks lay our history and our identity.

And if this piece is more about me than Kilzer…

Maybe that’s the way it’s always been. The tracks are stones in the river, that we sometimes go back and touch, but we move on from them but they’re frozen in time. If we get to meet the artists we get a story, but not closure, for somehow we don’t know how they reached down deep into their souls to create this stuff, and so many of them are inscrutable anyway.

But John Kilzer had a place in my heart, in my life. Whenever I saw his name I perked up, I wanted more information, because he made that album thirty years ago, that got me through a bad time, that rode shotgun in my life.

“Memory In The Making”

“Loaded Dice”


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