Friday, December 30, 2016

Remembering Richard Schnap

In the last post, I mentioned that a good deal of this year sucked something fierce. Well, it dug itself even deeper over the past couple of days. I'm not even talking about the death of Carrie Fisher and her poor mother Debbie Reynolds who, in all seriousness, seems to have died of a broken heart.

No. It's personal.

Last night, while looking at Facebook on my phone for the umpteenth time, I discovered that my longtime friend Richard Schnap had died. At this point, I don't know the details surrounding his death. I'm not exactly sure how old he was, though I think he was 58.

People on the Pittsburgh music scene, especially those who were around in the mid-to-late '80s, might recall Richard as a member of the Cynics, playing guitar and keyboards. He was with them when original singer Mark Keresman was still in the band, and also when he was replaced by Michael Kastelic. He added a great dynamic to the band, balancing the raw garage fuzz with some jangly Byrds-y kind of influence.

But prior to joining the Cynics, he played in a band called Toxic Shock that started life as an all-female punk band that actually got shut-off at the Electric Banana. When Richard and his friend Larry Anderson joined the band, the group was more of a scruffy Velvet Underground-influenced band with male/female harmonies -- and a lot of great songs.

Following his time with the Cynics (which I found out tonight was only a year - a virtual blip on the radar, considering the Cynics' 30+ year existence), Rich was involved with a handful of other groups, which often had a wild conglomeration of people, culled together more by friendship than anything else, again playing some pretty interesting songs: The Third Mind (which only last one show, in a set that opened with version of "The 39 Lashes" from Jesus Christ Superstar, in which vocalist Jeff Masko began with a Morrison-esque recitation before counting off the lashes); Graceland (with vocalist Dean Novotny, a natural showman with an operatic voice like Klaus Nomi, drummer/artist Scott Turri and metal bassist/funnyman Greg Bloom); the Shroud (which included Bloom and man about town Steve Heineman at one point); and the Side Orders (a duo with vocalist Alice Winn).

While some of these bands left people wondering what the hell was happening onstage, that query was often balanced out by the songs they played, which was written largely or altogether by Richard. He was a poet who had a knack for stringing together hooks and great stories when he put his mind to it. There were a few Toxic Shock songs that resurfaced in the Cynics, and probably in later bands as well.

I met Richard when I was in high school. Nine years my senior, he knew my brother John from Pitt, and he was also a fixture at the Record Recycler, a used record store in Squirrel Hill that was run by Keresman. (Richard and I were a few of the folks who would sit behind the counter when Mark needed to go out.) We hit it off immediately because we both loved talking about music and we were both interested in a lot of it. Back in those pre-internet days, one got their musical knowledge from magazines, books (the beloved Rolling Stone Record Guide, love it or hate it), college radio, in addition to good old fashioned crate digging. One day he played me a practice tape of Toxic Shock in the Recycler. I was really transfixed. They weren't punk, but they had a rawness that they balanced with some great songs. Not sure if this is revisionism, but I felt like they were closer to the ideas I had in my head.

All I wanted to do back then was be in a band, and Rich encouraged me every step of the way. Not only that, he helped me connect with some people that became very valuable in my life. Barb Madaus, who played/plays in Bone of Contention with me, had been the drummer of Toxic Shock. Not only was she a drummer, she was a singing drummer, a plus in my book. I only saw Toxic Shock once, but that was enough to convince me that, when looking for drummers, that Barb could be the one. Richard connected us, and I never looked back.

A few months after getting together with Barb, Richard came up to me and said, "I have a guitar player for you - Patty Pisula." We hadn't found a guitar player yet, and this Patty person, who also worked as the music director at Pitt's WPTS, played guitar but had never been in a band. Sign her up. More on her in a moment.

Not only did Richard help me connect with these people (and subsequently, with Lila Shaara, the missing fourth piece of the BoC puzzle back then), he became my running buddy of sorts. I was underage in the fall of 1985, but, don't worry, you'll be able to get into the Upstage, he said. Long before the 61C Cafe existed at the corner of Murray and Bartlett, Richard was convincing me to meet him there - at the epitomy of greasy spoons, George Aiken's - for coffee and talk about music and plans and hopes for the future.We'd also take in the local old gents from the neighborhood, pondering what their life stories might be.

Then the big thing came in early 1986. A telemarketing place had opened in Oakland, where he, Mark and about three other dudes from bands found work. They were calling for a few liberal organizations. By Christmas of '85, I was flat-broke, dropping out of Duquesne University and in bad need of a job. I wasn't eager to talk on the phone, but I was desperate to make money. Next thing I knew, this insecure kid from Squirrel Hill was working side-by-side with these cool music guys. A month later Patty started working there. Richard and I were hanging around each other three or four nights a week, starting at work and often ending up at Chief's Cafe, down the street. Or maybe we'd end up at Patty's apartment in Panther Hollow, till the wee hours of the morning. Six years later, I started dating a woman from Ohio who started working the same office, marrying her four years after that.

Most people don't last in telemarketing that long. Somehow I did it for 12 years, until greener pastures finally came along. And earlier this year - almost 30 years to the day that I started working there - I went back because times were tough. The other guys are all distant office memories, though Patty is there as office manager, and seeing her every morning makes the day go better.

I owe all of that to Richard. He talked the place up and built me up to believe that I could do it too.

I never believe that "everything happens for a reason" malarkey. But I do really believe that where you are on a particular day at a particular time can impact you life in long-term ways. And I think that Richard did that for me.

I once started an entry with my favorite quote from It's a Wonderful Life, which comes from Clarence, right when George is realizing what would happen if he had never been born. Now it seems appropriate to place it at the end of this post. "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

Thanks, Richard.

10 comments:

Vince C. said...

This was great, Mike, and just what Richard needed; someone to make sure guys like him don't fall through the cracks and crevices of layers of music scene and every day life.

Lee Skirboll said...

I agree with Vince's comment. Though I wonder if Richard did indeed fall thorough several cracks. I corresponded with him many years ago about his collages, which I published a thousand years prior in "Moon Spoon June". I'd known him for quite a while. From Pitt and writing, to the band scene and often socially. I also played with him in the band you mention, Third Mind, but not sure I was in the performing version. Its super sad to lose him - somebody so young and so talented. I know he was troubled on and off and sounded vague about himself when we wrote. Where was he? What was he doing? How did it happen that he died? How many of our old friends are out there languishing? RIP Mr. Schnap

Vince C. said...

Certainly our health system and cultural attitude toward mental health makes it so easy for someone suffering to deny themselves treatment and therefore fall right through those cracks. I know I saw him in the last few years (2007?) but I can't remember where. He did mention depression and looked worn out, but seemed to be holding on. We always expect that we'll see a person again and say, "Well, how's it going lately?" but the world decides otherwise.

Manny Theiner said...

Very well put, Mr Shanley, hearkening back to the Record Recycler days. From a later time period (late 90s, early 00s), I remember hanging with Richard and Alice a few times in his apartment, or at Garfield Artworks, or at the pizza parlor. Or having the Side Orders do an art opening or a slot at some ethereal-goth or freak-folk show. But I think the one thing you missed in this tribute was that he was also a poet and a visual artist. Garfield Artworks once hosted an entire room of his intricate collages. Also, Richard was in another band called Blacklight Discipline with George Andrews, Phil Tomasello and Lisa Miles. Lisa posted a tape of theirs on Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/lisamilesviolin/black-light-discipline-tape-archive-rough. RIP Richard.

Maria Edwards said...

Beautifully written, from the heart and a wonderful testimony to Richard. It is sad when friends from years of yore drop by the wayside for no clear reason. Always enjoyed our conversations about music, writing and artists and sadly he is now gone. Have no doubt he is at peace and will continue to create in the afterlife. RIP - Richard Schnap.

Bill von Hagen said...

Great piece, Mike, and a great tribute to Richard's spectrum of interests and impact.

Thetruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thetruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thetruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thetruth said...

Mike, thanks for your kind words. Vince and Lee, although you probably meant well it's hurtful for you to make false assumptions publicly and violate private lives.