The Badlees return

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The classic 5-piece Badlees line-up will re-unite and play a full set of music for the first time in almost 20 years this weekend in Pittston. Their induction into the Central Pennsylvania Hall of Fame earlier this summer seemed to kick-start things. The band played three songs at that ceremony, sounded better than they had any right to sound after such a long time away (no rehearsal, just a single pre-show soundcheck), and before the last mandolin strum of “Fear of Falling” faded out, fans on social media were already clamoring for more. Nobody in the band even hinted that things were gonna go further, but if you were a betting man…..

They seem to tap into something around here. “Nostalgia” can be a dirty word for musicians. The “best” song will be the next song. The “best” record will be the one we’re working on now. Carrying the old ones around can feel like dragging a suitcase without wheels through the airport. But part of what makes a band special are the memories they both create AND awaken. The second part is every bit as important as the first. A collection of the memories these guys can conjure up could fill a law library. Simpler times. Better times maybe. More resplendent in dignity.

Sunday will only add to this collection. That’s pretty good business.

There’s is a sprawling songbook, and it should be celebrated. I hope the band, as one, feels that way.

(That being said, I wouldn’t quibble if they decided to ADD to that songbook….but first things first, eh?)

This show may be a one-off. Or it may be the start of a new chapter. When they take their final bows this Sunday, I suspect they’ll know more.

And if I was a betting man….

The following is what I wrote back in 2014 when the band officially called it quits. I thought it worth re-sharing here….even with the weird Russell Crowe digression….

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I can remember picking up Badlees records (CDs actually….some of the first CDs I bought were from The Badlees) at Gallery of Sound. I think the store is still there. The one across from the Viewmont Mall. People still buy music. What a concept.

I used to work way up 81 North, so the record store was on my way home. Bought “Diamonds in the Coal” there. And “Riversongs”….before it got picked up by the major label. I didn’t give a shit what label they were on. They were a great band. And they made great songs. And for me….plugging away at my own songs, singing in half empty coffee shops….I felt a kinship. Because they were my age. And they were doing it.

(I’ll pause here momentarily....and venture that nobody ever mentioned the Badlees and Russell Crowe in the same sentence before. So I’ll be the first. I have no idea why this came into my head but when Crowe won his best actor Academy Award he made an amazing speech that finished like this…”a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable....[so] for anybody who's on the down side of advantage and relying purely on courage, it's possible.”)

So yea….I was buying these records. It was possible. These were our guys.

These weren’t old dudes. And they weren’t young punks either. They were just like the guys I hung around with. They came from nearby. Places I knew how to get to. And suddenly they were all over the radio. And not just the local stations either. You don’t open for Queen or Plant and Page from local spins alone. “Angeline is Coming Home” was irresistible. “Fear of Falling”. Tight. Compact. Instantly hummable. Palladino’s pipes. I remember some guy saying “wow this guy really sounds like Hootie”….and thinking….”no man, Rucker sounds like Pete, asshole. Check the fucking dates on the package…”

(Sorry. Last Hootie reference. I promise.)

Anyway, we love to label things. To compare things. We require fixed points of reference, otherwise we get lost. Like astronaut Tom Hanks flying blind without the earth in the window.

Success is a funny thing. It inspires all sorts of things, one being jealousy. There are lots of bands out there. Some are damn good. But not everybody gets to the level that the Badlees got to. I can only speak for myself and the guys I know…but I never heard any bitchiness about what was happening. I never knew anybody who knocked them just ‘cause that’s the thing to do. We rooted for them. They seemed like good guys. I didn’t know them. But when a band makes glorious noises, you feel like you know them. That’s one of the great things about music. It forges bonds….even between total strangers.

Maybe they never made a record that hinted at the power of their stage shows. You’d see them live and they’d be blowing the roof off these places. Their records were quieter. More introspective. The Badless were not robotic. They didn’t mimic their records. They explored them and kept digging deeper and deeper, excavating stuff that kept the same folks coming back time after time. It’s how you do it.

Just recently the band announced that they were calling it quits. Twenty five years is a long time to be in a gang. That’s what a band is. Band members can carry on private conversations without saying anything. It’s a closed society. Nobody else is allowed in. When a member starts to stray….the rest herd him back in. When they start to play, it’s all telepathy. The better a band is, the simpler it looks from the outside. I’m reminded of a great LBJ quote about loyalty. “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.” Nobody pissed into the Badlees tent.

All this just to say…the Badlees were a band. In every sense of that word. And one of the best to ever come out of our area. NEPA could have been Seattle if anybody ever bothered to come here. So it wasn’t like the Badlees didn’t have any competition.

I’ve since gotten to know some of them. Bret Alexander and Ron Simasek are both class acts….every bit the “good guys” I always presumed they were. I’ve talked quite a bit with their sometime songwriting collaborator Mike Naydock, who is just pure gold. They don’t make ‘em any sturdier than Mike.

I don’t know the reasons behind the breakup. Sometimes the time is just right to move on. The Badlees gave and gave and gave for 25 years. They don’t owe anybody anything. I have these records. That’s plenty good enough for me.

Go on YouTube someday and look for clips of the band bashing away in Bret’s kitchen…..like the basement tapes on the first floor. It’s glorious stuff. These guys were brothers.

I truly hope that they still are.

In a bit..

--tf