19 January

Craig Lieske died yesterday. He served as a leader--de facto I'd say, but perhaps it was more formal--of Garbage Island, an improvising noisy Rock ensemble that has been an institution in the Athens music scene for more than a decade. When I moved back to Athens in 2004 after spending most of the previous three years in Madison, Wi., Garbage Island had even become fairly popular. In recent years, with performances fewer and farther between, the crowds were back to their regular small numbers. Their music would have required an expert producer to translate to record; I'm not sure the band members would've wanted that anyway. The live performance mattered most. "You had to be there," as they'll say. Two, sometimes three, drummers; lots of guitars; at certain points in its history, vocals and synthesizers added to the dense mix as well. My only problem with their gigs came when I strained to hear Craig's contributions. He seemed to take on more of a rhythm role, but I wanted to hear him. I always did. He was an excellent improvisor, solo or collective.

Three trios: Desk Pussy, Diet Rock Star, and Echo Canyon, forming a progression from free-form experimentation to instrumental Rock, provide more than you need to know of Craig's abilities as a leader of fellow players; an organizer of musical gatherings including a one-day festival at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art (ATHICA) in 2005, weekly series as happened this past August at the Flicker Theatre and Bar, and countless ad hoc groupings; and a master intellectual in bringing disparate cultural paths, both abstract and human, together. He played so often that we all took him for granted. He fostered action, movement--that is, making music instead of talking about it. In turn, those he compelled into artistry could return to their thoughts and other activities, arguably without a proper understanding of the ideas that had motivated Craig. Find two individuals in the Athens music scene who can't stand each other, and they will almost surely both respect Craig and what he accomplished. I haven't even mentioned the jobs he held at the 40 Watt Club and with the Drive-by Truckers at which so many got the privilege to know him. Because, in the long run, as more live recordings surface (and--if we're lucky--some of his writings as well) his music will take its proper place as a major facet of Athens music. For now, listen to selections recorded by Sloan Simpson from his web site Southern Shelter: