I love my family of birth. I can’t imagine life without my mom or my sister and her family. That’s all there, intact and wonderful.
I love my family of choice, those friendships acquired and maintained over the decades, from college to a decade in NYC to my years here in Austin.
And I’ve recently realized that I love, very much, my family once by marriage and now by choice.
Late last month, I found myself in Bedford, NY, at home with Charles’ mother Bea; his phenomenal brothers Andrew, Nick, Chris, and Tim; sisters-in-law Kari and Karen; Charles’ daughter Willow, and her most excellent boyfriend Darius; and, Tim’s brilliant daughter Olivia. A large representation of The Riesers.
What a great group of people. They really are.
We were gathered together to memorialize Charles. It snowed lightly, perfectly. The service was held in a tiny Episcopalian church in Katonah and, to the best of everyone’s ability, it was without reference to God. Charles was an atheist. Later that evening, back at Bea’s house, we were gathered around the table and noted that Charles would have probably hated the service.
There was a brief pause in the conversation. Then, all of us channeling the same thought, uttered “Fuck him!” and laughed. Hard. We weren’t really there for him–we were there for ourselves.
This was completely characteristic of conversations we’ve had around that table over the years. The Riesers are all highly intelligent, funny, and kind–like Charles–and their politics are mine. They are great storytellers. Gather the Riesers in one room and four hours will feel like one.
More than once, I’ve thought how lucky I am that these were my in-laws. They understand addiction. They’re not afraid of talking about it. And I’m grateful to them for casting no blame on me. I think about how easy it would be to cast blame on a spouse: “She drove him to drink. Why did she do this to my son/brother/father?”
They understand Charles had a disease. None of us caused it, none of us could cure it, and everyone did the best they were able to do under the circumstances.
The Riesers are scattered across the country, from east coast to west coast and points in between. I don’t know when I will see them again, but there is the phone, and there is Facebook, and there is good will and gratitude and love between all.
Once a family by marriage, now a family by choice.
I was invited to say a few words at the service. I chose to speak about Charles’ years in Austin since most of those gathered (including high school friends and bandmates), didn’t really understand the breadth of his work in this town. Here were my remarks:
Charles moved to Austin in the early 90s. He moved from Maine, prompted by a suggestion from a bandmate. What – leave Maine winters for the sunny Live Music Capitol of the World? He said it wasn’t a tough call.
He went with a very concrete goal in mind: play 1,000 gigs and see where it got him. And it got him further than 99% of the world’s guitar players get. He was a 10-time Austin Music Award Winner. He shared the stage with world class players and personalities, and he absolutely belonged right up there with them. Those of you who made it to our wedding in 2005 might recall John Popper of Blues Traveler on stage next to Charles at the Lucky Lounge that night.
In the mid ‘90s, he toured the country with his bands The Panic Choir and The Ugly Americans. The latter came as close to the brass ring as you can get in 1995, when the second incarnation of Capricorn Records summoned them for a meeting. The label had room for one new band. It would be them, or it would be a little indie band by the name of Cake. Cake won, but the Ugly Americans dusted themselves off, expanded their ranks, deepened their groove, packed every room they played, and ruled the city of Austin for the next several years as The Scabs. They were consistently the best live show I ever saw.
And that’s how I first encountered Charles – as a fan. More than his supreme solos, Charles could do one thing better than anyone else. He could set a groove so deep it would send you into a trance. I used to stand there and simply watch his right wrist, so relaxed that I wondered if there were any bones in there.
It wasn’t until a few years later that we met, through a mutual friend, and for the first time I looked at his face, saw him smile, heard him laugh—and I was a goner. So two years later, when I needed to find a producer for my CD, he was my first call. We got to work in the spring of 2003, we fell in love, we married, adopted a fabulous dog, traveled when we could, and did the best we were each able to do for each other. Along the way, he produced three beautiful records for me.
He was an exceptional producer—thoughtful, meticulous, enthusiastic. He always had the listener in mind and set out to produce work that people would want to hear repeatedly. He had the rare ability to jump back and forth from that 40,000 foot view of the overarching sonic palette of an album, to deep down in the weeds–between the pixels of two notes–ensuring that they were just right.
What a gifted artist. And so much more. The man I married was the kindest, wittiest, smartest man I have ever met. His gift with words was off the charts; honestly, I think he was a writer who just never got around to writing his first novel. He liked to invent words, and my favorites were “capacibility” which just seemed more fun to him than uttering either “capacity” or “ability.” “Poligician,” of course, was a politician with magical thinking.
One-liners fell out of his mouth with such regularity that I took to keeping a pen and paper in every room of the house to capture these “Charlesisms.”
My next dog will be named Fetch.
Apparently, our air comes with conditions.
I got no beef with vegetarians.
If that arch in St. Louis is the Gateway to the West, doesn’t that also make it the Escape Hatch to the East?
I slipped and fell into character.
Put those words back where you found them.
At the intersection of Art and Commerce, there’s always a fistfight and Art usually walks away with a bloody nose.
Change, it ain’t what it used to be.
The inevitable has a funny way of happening.
On December 21st, in Austin, more than 200 of the city’s musicians and fans gathered to celebrate his life. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would have been more surprised by this than Charles. He sincerely had no idea that he had influenced so many, and influenced them so well.
I’m so grateful for our years together, and so grateful to have been welcomed into the Rieser family. My greatest love said more than once that he believed the job of every person is to leave a hole in the universe shaped just like them. A Charles-shaped hole. It’s there. It will never be filled. I’ll always feel it out there, and I’ll always want to.