Wednesday, October 17, 2012
In Memory Of Tommi Infamous
I got a call this past Sunday from the singer of my band. My wife answered the phone and said, "It's Roger." While Roger and I have been brother's in arms in Bigger Thomas for nearly 25 years, we communicate digitally -- email, text, Facebook. With family, work and other responsibilities we just don't have the time to talk like we used to. So when Roger calls me on the phone, somethings up. What he said when I took the phone is what we all dread when we get a phone call-- bad news. "Tommi Infamous is dead." he said. He was just 29 years old. I've been in a state of shock ever since.
There are many people who certainly knew Tommi better than me and were much closer to him than I was. I knew Tommi the way musicians know each other. His band Bomb Town and my band played a good number of shows together during 2004-2007. We were also label mates on Megalith Records who released "Logical Reality." So we hung out before our sets. Talked music at the bar after we performed. We shared stories. He always asked about my young son. Over those few years, I watched him grow and improve as a singer and entertainer. Despite energetic and crowd pleasing shows, he would sometimes confess that he wasn't happy with his own performance. I always told him I thought he was great and that I liked what he was doing, as crazy as it may have been.
Bomb Town was a great band. The first time I saw them I was completely caught off guard. Here were six, young kids, in the their late teens playing an explosive mix of punk, ska, reggae and dancehall and their singer was a charismatic skinhead who was chatting like a rasta as fast as he could to keep up with the breakneck speed of the songs. Bomb Town was a New Jersey band through and through and were proud of it. Calling their music "Graffiti Ska" they celebrated the underbelly of Asbury Park and other blighted towns along the Jersey shore, revisiting ideas first touched on by The Clash and The Sex Pistols in terms of the limits on youth, boredom, pop culture and the politics of confrontation. They mixed humor and the absurd with a sense of danger. It was a punk attitude, with a hardcore mentality and a ska and reggae dancehall sensibility. Whatever the show venue, be it club, firehouse or basement, Tommi seemed to like playing shows and sharing inside jokes with his friends in the band and if other people liked what they were doing, even better.
Tommi was edgy and onstage he had an ability to project confidence. For a time he practiced his interest in fire breathing during shows. He brought the Jamaican tradition of blowing air horns to show appreciation for a good song to Bomb Town shows -- it was something to see a sweaty throng of teens dancing and blowing air horns manically while Tommi smiled at them over the din from the stage. While I didn't always understand where he was going, I liked that he was blazing his own trail -- wherever it led. Tommi had an unusual creative spark in him that was always looking for ways to push boundaries and people's buttons at the same time. He was most definitely a case of "dont judge a book by it's cover" becuse he was much smarter than he let on. He used the the idea of "Babylon" corporate marketing -- posters, images, logos, TV shows -- to question the status quo, communicate his own unusual ideas about culture and to ambush people and push them out of their comfort zone. This included appearing on a reality dating show on the Fuse network called "You Rock, Let's Roll" and writing a jingle for the malt liquor energy drink Joose.
Despite our age difference -- Tommi was only 21 when Bomb Town started to play out and 23 when their first record "Logical Reality" was released in 2006 -- he and I shared a love of ska and reggae that we talked about often. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he knew his ska and reggae music history. It was clear he listened to the music and lived for it. As such, he appreciated what we were doing in Bigger Thomas and loved 2-Tone music (he went on the road with The English Beat as their tour DJ and I had never seen him so truly and authentically excited about something). We liked what he was doing and we invited him to guest on the song "Panic!" from our 2006 album "We Wear The Mask" along with Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew and Reverend Sinister of Hub City Stompers recorded with King Django at Version City Studio. It remains one of my favorite songs from that album.
In between his stints as the singer in Bomb Town, Tommi did a tour of duty in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a part of who he was at that time and I respected him for it, despite my opposition to the war. But it was also something he rarely talked about. I remember the last show he played before leaving for the war. I told him to stay safe. When he came back, I told him I was so glad he was back to playing music. That was the extent of our discussion about what he did there or what he saw.
The last time I saw him was in March, 2011 at a show we played in Brooklyn with him on the night there was a Supermoon in the sky. He was DJing and chatting over records. I watched his set after we played. He was funny and weird and doing his thing. We caught up during a long subway ride back to Manhattan and had a far ranging conversation about the unusually large and bright moon in the sky that night and how it might be freaking people out. It stuck with me and I wrote lyrics to a song inspired by that night and our conversation.
Though I can't be certain, I sense that Tommi's experience in Iraq changed him in ways we will never really fully understand. And for that I mourn his loss and our loss of him as a friend, fellow musician, provacateur, fire breather, horn blower, DJ, and lover of Jamaican culture. Rest in peace friend.