An Education: A Small Tribute to Tony Sly

My friend and I were just catching up over some drinks in my living room, saying obnoxious things for the sake of laughs and our curiosity got the better of us. So… What were our favorite punk bands of our youth doing these days, like, for careers? Out came the computers. The dudes from Belvedere seem to doing all right for themselves, in case you were wondering. Autopilot Off, off the grid. And on and on. And this is how I came to find out that Tony Sly, the lead singer of No Use For a Name, was dead.

Photo by Scott Cole
Photo by Scott Cole

And not recently: a year and a half ago now. How, in this era where information finds you and not the other way around, had I not heard about this? Needless to say, our cheap thrills took a somber turn for me. He was 41, with a wife, two kids, and just went to sleep and didn’t wake up (there’s some speculation as to an overdose or something of some kind, but no further information could be found). There’s a tribute album featuring a diverse cast of artists playing Sly’s songs – with lots of bands from the Fat Wreck Chords, NUFAN’s long-time label –  live shows with Lagwagon’s Joey Cape strumming a tender cover of “International You Day”, the band Yellowcard playing a tribute cover of “Chasing Rainbows” to an oblivious crowd of Warped Tour teenagers, YouTube videos labeled as “Tony Sly’s Last Show”.

Jesus.

I thought of the hours of my youth, nestled in front of my stereo and hitting rewind on every song from Leche Con Carne, More Betterness and especially Making Friends. It was with these records that I trained my ear as a young guitar player.

Musically, NUFAN was a curriculum up from the records I’d cut my teeth on before – Green Day’s Dookie (Power Chords 101), Blink’s Cheshire Cat (Power Chords 201: Symbiosis with Fifths and three-note riffs) and Pennywise’s About Time (Power Chords 301: Intro to Ridiculously Fast Palm-Muting). Even then, I suspected NUFAN to be the kind of band my older brothers, had they actually listened to punk music, would like. Sly didn’t sing about being a basket case, his dick or whatever Noam Chomsky book Jim Lindberg was reading before his studio sessions. Sly’s lyrics were heavy at times. Frankly, the gravity of some of his themes – the domestic abuse Sly highlighted in “Justified Black Eye”, for instance – didn’t resonate with me, but Leche Con Carne‘s opener – that brilliantly heavy-melodic, two-part intro – now that I could get down with. And so I devoured those records, mastered the chords and tried my damnedest to follow Chris Shifflet’s insane guitar work on Making Friends.

Of course, Sly and the lyrics and melodies he wrote were the glue to all of those songs. And there were great ones – “Invincible”, “Room 19”, “Savior”.

Over the years, I’ve felt the urge to write bands like NUFAN, just drop an email, tell ‘em ata boy. Keep it up. Love your records. They deserved an honest thank you. I still play music today – it’s a huge part of my life; couldn’t do without it, honestly – and I credit the punk bands of my youth for that initial spark. But, out of sheer apathy, it was never offered.

So, with that: thanks, Tony. And, thanks, No Use. What you did mattered.

Love, Lou

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