We kick off the 2012 with a shining gem from the vaults, The Life – Alone deluxe edition.
- If It Works (don't fix it) The Life 3:37
- Another Side Of Life The Life 3:34
- The Tunnel The Life 4:25
- Love By The Wayside The Life 4:09
- In A Storm The Life 4:53
- Here We Are Again The Life 3:14
- If I Had You (For Natalie) The Life 3:36
- I Can't Wait That Long The Life 4:29
- One Day The Life 3:38
- Alone The Life 5:16
- Bridge of Bones The Life 3:13
- Down The Life 3:36
- Broken Man The Life 4:11
- The Dead The Life 3:38
- Gold The Life 3:51
- The Empty Space The Life 3:25
- Madame La Guillotine The Life 4:03
- Come to Call The Life 3:41
- Four Suns in the Sky The Life 3:33
- Why The Life 4:38
- The Distance The Life 5:19
- Do It Again The Life 3:04
- Dancing Brave The Life 2:42
- Wax and Blood The Life 3:19
- Jenny The Life 3:18
- The Careful Night, The Hollow Nest The Life 3:50
- Freedom Is The Life 4:23
JANUARY 2012 ONLY DEAL!! An extra bonus track if you buy from GMR (paypal) or bandcamp download (the red button)! I had to talk Jimm McIver into it. This will not last!
As each of you no doubt recall, The Life were named best new Northwest band in 1987, when they released their debut album Alone. This was a great band. Definitely outside what would become the Seatown mainstream – grunge-o-rama – so quick to be written off by historical revisionists.
What you have here is the entire 10 song Alone album remastered from the analog masters. plus an entire second bonus disc, Witness The Will, containing 17 songs recorded for their unreleased second album.
Even more bonusy, in 1989 Senior VP of Video Howie shot their show at The Backstage in Ballard. As a result, we have a great new YouTube video for Freedom Is … – we like to plan ahead at GMR!
And where are they now? Tony shuffled from this mortal coil in 2006. Eric and Jimm perform as Picture Day, who released Wild Aim(2010). Jimm has released 2 solo discs, Polaroid Angel (2002) and Sweet Petunia Modern and the Holograms of Düm (2006). Eric is a member of The Green Pajamas and has released a solo album Palm Wine Sunday Blue (2002). Casey plays some and is probably working on his solo debut. Probably.
The Albums (GM1011)
1. If It Works (don’t fix it)
2. Another Side of Life
3. The Tunnel
4. Love By The Wayside
5. In A Storm
6. Here We Are Again
7. If I Had You (for Natalie)
8. One Day
9. I Can’t Wait That Long
Witness The Will (1990 previously unreleased except* released as Green Monkey single)
1. Bridge of Bones
3. A Broken Man*
4. The Dead
6. The Empty Space
7. Madame La Guillotine
8. Come To Call
9. Four Suns In The Sky
11. The Distance
12. Do It Again*
13. Dancing Brave
14. Wax & Blood
16. The Careful Night, The Hollow Nest
17. Freedom Is…
In Memory of Tony Bortko 1953-2006
Casey Allen: Electric bass and background vocals
Tony Bortko: The Guitar, keys on I Can’t Wait That Long
Eric Lichter: Kit drums and percussion, keys on Love By The Wayside
Jimm McIver: Vocal and rhythm guitar
Flute on The Tunnel: Kathy Frank, Bodhran on Down: Joe Martin
THE LIFE Part 1: The Story of The Life as told by Casey Allen with some interjections from Eric, Jimm and Tom
CASEY: Eric, Jimm, and Tony met by backing up some musician at a recording studio session. They decided to move on and form a band. The guys found a bass player through a friend of a friend of an in-law, and started working in the basement of the big house I had just moved into. The bass player was my on-and-off high school/college girlfriend, Diana Swisher.
ERIC: The Life came together in the spring of ‘84. Jimm, Tony and I were the nucleus. We went through a series of band names and bass players until we finally settled on the name and personnel. Weaving our way through the 80’s was the task. With various rehearsal space challenges, trying to get gigs with limited venues to play, we were truly a startup/ self-made band. We promoted ourselves as any band did prior to the internet: postering in the blistering rain, advertising shows with Jimm on a bull horn on the back of my scooter, stunts like walking onto the UW campus carrying a coffin with a live body to promote our record.
CASEY: My band at the time, the Wild Debbies, was also practicing there. The Debs had started in Pullman, WA, playing frat parties, 10-cent beer night at local taverns, dorm mixers, and play-till-the-cops-show-up house keggers. When half the band graduated and moved to Seattle, I took a break from school and followed. I moved in to the big house in Wallingford.
A few months passed, and Diana and the guys decided to part ways. The band knew I was a bassist (and had a van), and invited me to join. I pretty much knew the songs already through osmosis, the music coming up through the floor and lodging in my head. Our first show at the Hall of Fame, January ’86 went well, and we were off and running.
We played just about any gig we could get, like 2-3 gigs a month, sometimes even more. I don’t recall turning down any shows; we played just about anything we could get. The opportunity to play in front of people outweighed the pain-in-the-ass aspects of gigging: loading and unloading equipment up and down the stairs of the rehearsal room, jerk soundmen and club bouncers, parking, etc. We started to build a following: our loyal friends and housemates (we knew they were loyal because they always wanted to be on the guest list), then other bands and their friends.
Some of our fave clubs: The Central (it was cool to see the growth in the number of fans over time), the Hall of Fame (sentimental favorite, not necessarily a great club, but played there a lot at first), Squid Row (didn’t take many people to pack the place, hot and crowded and beer-slick floors), the Ditto (my dad helped me sneak in my then-underage girlfriend, I locked the keys in my car while parked on the sidewalk in front).
We did manage to travel out of town a number of times, too. Bellingham, Spokane (where people looked at us as if we were freaks when we walked down the street), Walla Walla, Portland a few times, and one memorable show in Oak Harbor where we played with Variant Cause in a beautiful old theater to about four audience members.
We were rehearsing at the Band House in the Roosevelt District, sharing the space with Variant Cause, some painters, and a population of large rats. We got together two or three times a week in (again) the basement, writing new songs, polishing current ones, and generally hanging out.
We had enough material by 1987 to start thinking about recording some songs and becoming rock stars. We got hooked up with Tom Dyer of Green Monkey Records and producer Keith Livingston. I think we had played with Keith Livingston‘s band at the Hall of Fame, and he also ran sound there. He introduced us to TD, who had his own recording studio and record label, and before we knew it, we signed on with Green Monkey. Green Monkey (and Keith) provided the studio time; we got a bank loan (!) to pay for tape, cover art, pressing, and all the other incidentals.
The sessions for Alone were an exciting time for me: one of my few goals in life at the time was to have an album out by the time I was 25. I was doing what I was meant to do, we had a bunch of songs I thought were really good, and entering the studio felt great (unless you forgot to duck and hit your head on the doorjamb). We were (mostly) young, (sometimes) dumb, and full of … great rock songs, that featured triumphant choruses, brilliant chiming guitars, and heartfelt, soaring vocals.
The best part? It was fun. It was hard work, but the good kind of hard work, because we believed in what we were doing and wanted it to be the best we could make it. But hanging out in our little gang, sweating in Tom’s tiny basement, cigs and beers between takes, and hearing our parts come together was fantastic. I don’t remember how long it took to record, but the other stuff (art, photos, color separations (whatever that means), test pressings) seemed to take forever.
We arranged a record release party at the Central Tavern, with Jimm and the records arriving from Canada barely in time for the show.
1987 was cool, we won the Northwest Area Music Association (NAMA)award for best new band and as a result made the cover of The Rocket.
ERIC: It kind of happened quite unknowingly. Jimm, as I recall was in New Orleans at the time, so Casey and I went to Parkers, where they were hosting the NAMA awards to kind of “just be there.” We really weren’t expecting to win. There were other bands in the running like Pure Joy, The Walkabouts, etc. When we heard our name, we were kind of stunned. Managed to utter a few unintelligible words and get off stage. Several weeks later we were on The Rocket cover. We were on a high note.
TOM: I was only peripherally involved in recording Alone, having contributed to the final mix of “If it Works (don’t fix it)” as I was sure it was “the hit.” We released Alone and got some decent reviews and airplay, but didn’t take over the world. Not too long thereafter we started to think about a second record. I’d known Michael Lord for a few years and asked him if he would be interested in working with me on their second album at his studio. Michael was a true believer and said yes. It was a “spec deal,” which meant we would only make dough if the band did. Even though Michael’s studio was also in the basement, it was a big step up from mine – 24 tracks! It was a long, but focused, process – taking over six months. We drank lots of Michael’s excellent coffee. You can hear the brilliant results here and now. Having not heard these tracks for twenty years, I was surprised to hear how fresh they sound. However, as the album sessions progressed, the tension in the band escalated. By the end of the recording process, the band had enough. The sessions would remain unheard until today.
CASEY: There are strains in any group of creative people working together, and The Life was no exception. Working with Tony could be more than a little bit daunting. In his motorcycle leathers and boots, he presented a gruff exterior; he could joke around and laugh with the rest of us, but as time passed we found it harder to work together. I think Tony had a vision in his head of how he wanted the band to sound, and if it didn’t measure up, he got frustrated. His dissatisfaction was not always expressed in the band’s best interest. A gob of spit on the wrong person’s girlfriend served to cut off local airplay.
JIMM: What’s on these recordings is Tony’s incredible gift. My overall feeling about Tony as it relates to this release is great admiration and thankfulness that I got to play with him.
CASEY: We went to group counseling, for crying out loud, to better understand where everyone was coming from, and work things out so the band could continue. (ERIC: We went to a band therapist even before Metallica thought of the idea!) It was definitely helpful and increased communication within the band, but in the end we just couldn’t make it work anymore and called it quits.
JIMM: The Life was six years of madness, triumph, creative awakening, paralyzing dysfunction, fierce loyalty, inspiration, desperation, soaring musical joy and heartbreaking failure … all of this on a daily basis and in no particular order. I think we were able to survive and thrive through all of this simply because we had great songs, great people supporting us, and we believed in each other as players. We poured our heart and soul into this music and I think because of that it still sounds great twenty odd years later.
And now THE LIFE Part 2 – The Story of Alone from the Producer, Keith L.
The Time: Nineteen eighty-something.
The Place: Tom Dyer’s tiny, basement 8-track studio
The Event: The Life – Alone
Casey Allen–Bass. Solid and matter-of-fact.
Eric Lichter–Drums. Well, you’d just have to know Eric. There’s no way to describe him.
Jimm McIver–Vocals. Wooly, inspired and passionate about his music.
Tony Bortko–Guitar. Creative, paranoid, angry and talented.
Keith Livingston: Producer/engineer. Me.
My job was to help the guys put their songs and performances together into a coherent record and to help them bring forward the best of what they wanted to express artistically. Given the circumstances, it was no small feat.
Tony was everyone’s scary uncle. His searing, melodic guitar lines were woven through every song and provided the plaintive hooks you couldn’t get out of your mind if you wanted to. His guitar provided the unique edge to the powerful pop melodies and driving choruses that made The Life much more than your average power pop band.
And Tony was intimidating as hell. I remember once during a gig, he spit on someone because he thought they looked at him the wrong way. If he was in a good mood, you had the feeling he was just about to smash your face in. And he was a big guy.
Of course, he looked at me with suspicion. “Who the fuck is this guy? He’s going to try to change my music, they always do.” But as we worked together, Tony and I developed an uneasy truce. Tony, I believe, saw that I wanted to help him get his vision on vinyl. And he knew he had to deal with me to do it. And I knew I had to work with him. Having cut my teeth doing punk records, I’d learned to work fast and keep the knucklehead, technical stuff away from the musicians as much as possible. I figured my job with Tony was to make him as comfortable as possible and stay out of his way. And that’s a big accomplishment in a recording studio the size of a bedroom.
I couldn’t tell you what it was about but I remember butting heads with Tony. I had some idea that he didn’t like. There he was, standing two feet away from me, glaring. I held my ground. We made a deal. “You listen to what I have to say. Consider if fully, completely and openly. If you think it doesn’t make the song better, we’ll do it your way.” He did. We did.
When I think back on making the record, a series of images flash through my mind. I remember Eric in the control room with me, tapping on the stool as he was listening to playback. I remember Casey laying down bass tracks as if making a record was something he did every day. I remember watching Jimm through the glass as he was cutting vocal tracks, intense concentration etched in his face. I remember waking up on the studio floor after pulling an all-nighter and being too tired to make it home. I remember stumbling out of the studio into a half-light, half-dark world and literally not knowing whether it was dawn or dusk. We worked hard.
I did a lot of records in those days. When I listen back to this one, I want to point my thumb back at my chest and say, “I helped.” I’m proud of this record. And not in a “We managed to do a pretty good job for a basement 8-track studio” way. It’s more of a “This is a damn good rock record” way. And the record holds up after all these years. But I was just helping put on the final touches. It was Eric, Jimm, Casey and Tony that were The Life. And of course, their songs. And for a brief time, I was part of the team. We were brothers with a common goal. Yeah, even you, Tony. Thanks guys, for allowing me to be a part of it, I was, and continue to be honored. And thanks, T.D., for making it all happen.
PS: Tony is dead now, so I can say whatever I want about him. Here goes… “Tony, I’m pretty sure God doesn’t keep you by his side–‘cause you scare the shit out of him. But I’m pretty sure he listens to your music.”
THE LIFE Part 3: Some Thoughts about Witness The Will from Co-Producer and Engineer Michael Lord
In a sound bite driven culture wherein the average citizen has an attention span only arguably longer than a common house fly is it possible to define artistic success by measures beyond the number of units sold?
Within such narrow confines commercial success is relatively easy to accomplish. All it takes is hard work and then more hard work, dumb luck, stubborn perseverance against all odds, being in the right place at the right time, relentless pursuit of opportunity and the ability to recognize that opportunity should it appear. Finally one must be ready, willing and able to then kick the door of opportunity off its hinges and flat to the floor as if nothing else mattered should it crack itself open an inch or a moment. If any one of these elements is missing commercial success will be elusive and by the way – more often than not – deep talent has little or nothing to do with it.
So how then can we define as successful a CD never completed and released 20 years after its creation? Fortunately there exist many other ways to define success. Besides the requisite hard work The Life brought to the table the achingly honest virtuosity of Tony’s lead guitar combined with the lyric and vocal power of Jimm McIver driven by the relentless determination of a well-honed, take no prisoners, rhythm section. It was all there – the vision, the chemistry, the desire, the power and the passion. Quite simply they were the right band in the right place at the right time.
Inquiring minds may ask “what went wrong?” But the concept of right and wrong is all a matter of perspective isn’t it? Once upon a time there was an exceptionally great band comprised of some deeply gifted, dedicated hard working artists. Some truly inspired music was created and then decisions were made to take a different direction. Nothing wrong with that!
At the end of the day there really is no right or wrong decision. There is only decision’s consequence which we then have to live with, for better or for worse, whether we want to or not. The consequence in this case is that this music was never released. The reasons why are no longer worth discussing but I can tell you this – it wasn’t for lack of trying, talent, dedication or hard work, and the end, when it came, was a heart breaker for all involved.
When all is said and done what makes this music a success is artistic integrity. If this integrity becomes the yard stick by which we measure success – if this band can be judged solely on the strength of the music itself free from all other considerations – then I have to say that the music on this CD represents one of the most successful musical projects I ever had the pleasure and privilege to be a part of.
So for those of you who were always there back when, this one’s for you from all of us who were there and for whom this music mattered.
Alone produced by Keith Livingston
Recorded and mixed at TDS Productions by Keith Livingston in 1987
If It Works (don’t fix it) mixed by Tom Dyer & Keith Livingston
Mastered by Mark Guenther at Seattle Disc Mastering 2006
Final Mastering by Tom Dyer at TDS Productions 2011
Witness The Will produced by Tom Dyer and Michael Lord
Engineered and mixed by Michael Lord at Michael Lord Productions in 1989 or so.
Mastered by Tom Dyer at TDS Productions 2011
Front cover photo: Saulius Pempe
Front cover concept: Saulius Pempe and The Life
Corner photos by Howie Wahlen. Ditto Tavern photos – unknown.
Cover design by Carlton IV.
All Songs by The Life. All songs (p) & © Half The World Publishing
The Life Sends Many Thanks To:
Michael Lord, Howie Wahlen, Carlton IV, Stacia White, Carl Allen, Kim, Heike, and all at 4411, Gregg Keplinger, The MPs, Mark Nichols, Stephen Fox, Kathy Meyers, Kathy Frank, Variant Cause, Diana Swisher, Matt Conway, B.B., Michelle Lichter, Tony Tigner, Rick Burdorff, Teri Hanisch, Howard Scott, Ellie Bernstein, John and Mary Ann McIver, Steve McIver, Poodie, Megan Murphy, Dan Kaufman, KJET 1600, Deborah Barrows, Mark Fenton, Jim Kelly, Bill Trezise, Deanna Betcher, Jose Rambaldi, Dominic’s, Guido’s, Spike, T. Rex, and last but most Tom and Vicki for their patience and impatience.
And Keith for all the extras.