Six months ago, I sat awake for 48 hours, blowing up phones with voice mails, emails and text messages that sought to verify that a genius was dead.
Death sells, and when you’re doing this, you know deep down that you’re selling it, too. But running on adrenaline, all I could think about was how I’d lead off the story if it turned out to be wrong. It was only later that I realized the absurdity, the callousness of this – of calling a stranger’s sisters on a Saturday night to say, Hi, I’m from 5 Magazine, and I’d like to report the exclusive news that your loved one is dead. I’d like to think I’m a bit more tactful than that, but that’s what it boils down to: give me your soul and let me convert it into page views. Better 5 Magazine than “edmfreedownloads.com”, I guess.
You know how it ends. The story – Romanthony’s death – was confirmed. I wrote a tribute called Remembering Romanthony For The First Time, Again that today seems most remarkable for its refusal to discuss what probably everyone with the slightest inside knowledge was discussing. I did mention the “strange isolation” around Romanthony, which is a kind way to put it. Months before his death, I was told about a lifestyle that basically mashed together every “reclusive genius” stereotype from Harper Lee to J.D. Sallinger. At around that same time, Romanthony was out on his final tour of Europe. Reviews were not positive. They were respectful, but sad.
That’s the same term I’d use to describe the voices of some of Romanthony’s loved ones I’ve spoken to since May: respectful, but sad. It didn’t have to end this way and it shouldn’t have. It’s not right that this stream of beautiful music should end. Yet it had, for all intents and purposes, ended more than a decade ago. In a piece promoting the aforementioned European jaunt, Romanthony told an interviewer what will probably be his epitaph. “My music in production is usually physical pain,” he said. “When you get a certain rhythm going at the studio, a certain sequence of melodies, sometimes, it’s like… It’s not funny at all, it’s like the opposite of it.”
Realizing that the story I’d hoped to write was not the one in front of me, I quietly shelved anything else I planned on writing about Romanthony – a biography, most grandiosely. Somewhere deep down, I’ve got a soul, too.
At the time of his death, I anticipated a torrent of poorly conceived Romanthony remixes, re-issues and “tributes” of the same sort that appeared when the bloodsucking maggots that live off the vinyl re-issue industry smelled dollars around Spencer Kincy. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that this hasn’t happened with Romanthony. You don’t want a man’s memory to be exploited. You also don’t want an artist’s work to be forgotten. It’s a fine line and I don’t really have any recommendation on how one should navigate it.
Spencer Kincy (aka Gemini)
The few examples that I’ve come across have been remarkably respectful and restrained. This is especially true of Thoughts on Romanthony. Grand Reserve is made up of two people I’m not familiar with (going by the names “Mutt” and “Reverend T”) and one guy that people from Chicago damn well ought to remember, Trevor Lamont. Trevor was a fixture in the Midwest scene in the ’90s, frequently at House Preservation Society events like the one that first exposed Romanthony to snotnosed kids like me.
The three track EP is really is more of a tribute to the sound of Romanthony than the sort of coldly calculated rip off I feared. The final track, “RomanthonE”, is the only one that references its subject matter directly, with a long spoken word bit. This record really is so much more than that, though. The lead off track in particular, “All You Need”, has been stuck in my head since I first heard it, and I feel like I’m writing this more as a plea for mercy than anything else. It’s that addictive – a little shuffle that gets under your skin and absolutely perfectly placed vocal samples. It’s a mature, raw and minimalistic but vital piece of Deep House with a herky-jerky production style that reminds me more of Spencer than anyone else.
Everyone is going to write about the “Romanthony connection” in regard to this record, just like I did. Which is kind of a shame, because this trio has presented a record that can and does stand on its own. The tribute is heartfelt, and it’s probably most appropriate that here’s a Romanthony tribute that even the uncompromising Romanthony would probably like.