2000 - Walking in New Shoes

2000 – Walking in New Shoes

On the evening of December 31, 1999, a few friends and I attended Billy Joel’s The Millennium Concert[1] at Madison Square Garden. Shortly before midnight the band went into the song “2000 Years” which wrapped up as the video screen showed the last 10 seconds of the ball dropping in Times Square just a few blocks away. The clock struck 12 and Billy Joel welcomed us into the new millennium. It was a spectacle; confetti rained down on the venue as he went straight into “Auld Lang Syne” followed by “River of Dreams”! We rocked right into a new era. On January 10thit was reported that America Online would buy Time Warner, a symbol of a progressively internet-based society.

In college with music composition as my major I was diving deep into musical studies. It felt great that developing my composition skills was in line with my educational goals. Although I must admit, the genres of music I felt encouraged to compose at Brooklyn College were generally not my cup of tea. However, these challenges truly stretched and trained me to be a better composer which benefitted my songwriting. 

I had a strong drive to write songs. At some point I was pumping out 3-5 songs a week. My motivation to write songs was multi-layered. On the one hand, I wanted to develop as a songwriter, lyricist, and composer. On the other hand, I needed an outlet to deal with various mental, emotional, and sometimes physical struggles. As a sensitive person I was always trying to make sense of the world around me and finding ways to cope with what seemed like the incessant contradictions of being human. The most natural way for me to cope with these myriad challenges of maturing into adulthood was to create music.

I was dealing with family discord. Suffice it to say I did not mind being on Brooklyn College campus from 9am to 10pm several days a week. I was also coping from the breakup with my first girlfriend Ella. We were still in communication intermittently which felt healthy but no longer alleviated the desire for a close female companion. Rather than seek solace in a new and fresh romantic relationship, I dived, as much as possible, into composing, rehearsing, performing, studying, and teaching guitar. It’s not that I did not long for a romantic partner. I surely did, but I sensed I needed time unattached to develop myself more fully as an artist and a person. 

On February 12th, the beloved comic strip artist and creator of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts, Charles Schulz passed away. Another sign that one era was ending and a new one beginning. For Valentine’s Day my friend Marco Baranov and I took the train into the city[2] for an adventure. We had empty seltzer bottles filled with cheap wine so that we could conceal and drink it on the train. It was very cold, the trains did not run smoothly, we had no idea where we were going, and we could not get into any bars because we were still not 21. Since we were both single at the time, we wanted to do something rather than sit home feeling sorry for ourselves even if our outing turned out to be miserable. 

Modus Tollens began performing our first few gigs as a trio. At this stage the lineup was: Dave Evans, drums and backing vocals; Jeremy Batchelor, bass; John Henry Sheridan, guitar and lead vocals. On Friday February 25th, we played in the back room of Christie’s Pub on Flatbush Avenue around the corner from my old school, Saint Thomas Aquinas. We were ages 18-19 and so were most of our friends. The flyer indicated: Show Starts at 11:00pm. Proper 21 ID Required. We had to use a little persuasion that evening to get ourselves and friends into the bar as they suspected we were underage. We played mostly originals plus several covers. Some of the originals were acoustic songs which I performed solo. Our friends, family and supporters gave us an encouraging reception and seemed to enjoy themselves. This inspired us to want to perform more. On the rainy night of Saturday, March 11th, we performed to a thin and supportive audience at The Spiral[3] in Manhattan’s Alphabet City. 

Jeremy, Dave, and I were in the process of recording our first official demo at Electric Plant Sound Studios with studio owner Vee. This was a real treat to work with a professional and pleasant recording engineer. He helped us to further create and solidify the vision of our band and sound. I loved being able to record my guitar parts and vocals separately. I also really enjoyed layering guitar parts to create richer textures in the music. We performed two sets at Christie’s Pub again on Friday March 24 with a stand-up comedian in between sets[4].

Our neighborhood of Marine Park welcomed spring with the opening of the Salt Marsh Nature Center[5] on Earth Day (April 22nd). The Creek trails had been fenced off and closed for a while which was annoying to those of us who enjoyed regularly traipsing back there. The trails of The Creek were once again opened only now they were something resembling a proper park rather than makeshift trails through weeds and rubble. This was disappointing for some, but I was happy to have a clean and well-maintained nature area just a three-minute walk from home.

I had been teaching guitar for about 4 years primarily from The BASEment, which had now evolved into my own apartment. I had developed enough to have a steady stream of students. Perhaps I was a good teacher, I don’t know but I was growing bored and impatient with teaching guitar. I wanted to experiment with doing an “ordinary job” instead. As a life-experience experiment, I worked as a box boy and general helping-hand at the local Esplanade Pharmacy on Quentin Road. It was low-stress, somewhat menial, low-paying and (like many jobs) time-consuming. This experience was depressing enough to help me appreciate what a privilege it was to be able to teach guitar on my own terms, and so I quit after 6 months of “giving it the old college try” and picked up with the guitar teaching again. 

Modus Tollens was a restless animal and looking into fleshing out the sound of our power trio. Our completed four-song demo took a back seat and was beginning to feel dated as we prepared to evolve our sound. Jason Hills had been excited about the band when I first told him about it in late 1999. Jason had played with Jeremy and I during our metal band days a few years prior. Additionally, all four of us (Dave, Jeremy, Jason, and I) had played together in musical ensembles at James Madison High School which entrained in us some common musical sensibilities. Jason was a natural fit and joined Modus Tollens as the keyboardist in early spring. He also brought trumpet, backing vocals and technical know-how to the band which would help us to facilitate an online presence (ModusTollens.net). 

While I was happy to be the singer of the band, not everyone shared my enthusiasm. It was suggested that we look for a singer. Being the primary songwriter, I was disappointed to hear that my fellow bandmates would want my songs and guitar playing but not my voice. However, I did recognize that my voice was not of the type that was heard on popular radio and after all I was not a trained vocalist. I believed that my voice was right for my songs, but I had to admit I was also curious. What if someone else could do justice to these Modus Tollens songs with a more commercially viable sound and look? And besides, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to focus solely on guitar playing and songwriting? I agreed to move forward with the new singer plan.

As weather warmed, we began to play semi-regular shows at our local watering hole KK’s bar in Flatlands, Brooklyn. One of these shows was on Saturday July 8thTo our youthful zeal, we were glad that KK’s was known for allowing under-age kids to enter without much difficulty. This was a great place for us to play. It was in the neighborhood so we could pretty much pack the place and our mostly underage friends could attend. 

Physically, I was trying to get back in shape. I had let my health fall low on the priority list in the previous year or two and felt out of shape with a low motivation to improve my eating or to exercise more. Via the Modus Tollens performances, I had a chance to meet new people. Sam Ackerman was a friend of Jeremy’s. He was a few years older than me and of a significantly different character: muscular, tough-looking, logic-oriented. Yet he was also sensitive and subject to emotionality. Sam and I struck up a friendship. We discussed the idea of being workout partners. I began biking over to his apartment on Sunday mornings. We would work out together in his room and sometimes have coffee and breakfast together. Sam and I began jogging together weekly to hold each other accountable to keeping fit. My friend Alfred Major joined some of our fitness meetups. Amidst this new tri-bond relationship the topic of travelling abroad came up. I was speaking enthusiastically about my trip to London the previous summer. One thing led to another and next thing we knew we had booked a ten-day summer trip to the UK. 

In mid-summer the three amigos (Sam, Alfred, and John) were soaring away to the not-so-sunny land of England. It was the first time any of us had travelled abroad completely on our own. We stuck together though our collective energy was sometimes bordering on pessimistic nihilism. We drank a lot of coffee and alcohol. I developed a taste for sharp cheddar cheese in the kitchen of a friendly Italian-British woman’s bed and breakfast. We travelled to London, Manchester, The Lake District, Edinburgh, and then back to London. 

In the Lake District we rented bikes and took a long ride through the lovely green and rolling hills of the English countryside. Partly due to the hand breaks being opposite to the American way and partly because I had picked up too much speed going down a hilly road with sharp turns, I lost control of my bicycle and crashed into a ditch on the side of the road. My back landed in a stream of running water. Sam laughed as he found me proceeding from the grasses with some of those grasses popping out of my clothing as if I had tried to camouflage myself. When he saw I looked hurt he sincerely asked if I was ok although between snickers of laughter. It was a scramble to get back on time which we did by the skin of our teeth. Fortunately, I had a helmet on that day. It was the first time I ever wore a helmet. When I returned to the USA, I went out and bought a helmet soon after.

On a bright Saturday back in Brooklyn, I biked with some beer down to the local North 40 nature trail. I then biked home buzzed ready to go out. I borrowed Mom’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra and drove to Kings Highway where I parked and caught the train. On the way into the city I met with Kitty Davis, Vicky Davis, Marco Baranov, and perhaps a few others. We were going out “dancing” at the gothic nightclub The Batcave in mid-town Manhattan. On the train Kitty and Vicky supplied each of us with our own Nesquik bottle filled with Blackberry Brandy. I had never drunk Blackberry Brandy before and had no idea how my body would react to it especially after a few beers pre-drunk on a mostly empty stomach. We stopped at Sbarro’s Pizza on the corner before entering the club. Some of us were already flying high. At the club we split up. The “plan” was to connect with someone at the club and “hook up”. I explored all three floors of the club dancing freely on each one. My typical demeanor was on the serious side. The alcohol “helped” me to be more social, but I might have freaked out a few people with how “friendly” I was feeling. I had become highly delusional. At some point I was outside in front of the club gleefully socializing with strangers and reunited friends whom I hadn’t seen since we entered a few hours earlier. That was probably 3am and the last conscious memory I have of that night. After that, there was a vague sense of being surrounded by several mysterious figures (almost like what you might see in an alien abduction video). 

Next thing I knew I felt consciousness returning to a highly uncomfortable and miserable body and mind. There was a lot of noise, activity, and bright light. I was in a hospital bed. What the fuck happened!?! What day is it? Where am I? What borough am I in? By the looks of what I could see out the window, it seemed like I was still in Manhattan! Oh no, my mother is gonna be looking for her car soon!

A man, presumably a doctor, came over.

“How are you feeling?”

“Pretty bad”

“You were drinking last night.”


“Do you have a job?”

“Yes. I work at a pharmacy.”

“Do you drink every day?”


I couldn’t believe I was being asked if I drink every day! Do I look like a common drunk off the street?

“Ok. Well, after your paperwork is completed, you’ll be good to go.”

“Ok great, thanks . . .”

Man, I felt horrible. Someone brought a light breakfast on a platter. Eating wasn’t easy but I forced myself to have a cold hard bun with weird-tasting pink jelly and butter as well as some hospital-grade orange juice. I noticed one of the back pockets of my nice grey pants had been ripped off, presumably to find my wallet and identity. Holy Fuck! What a close call. Where had I passed out and for how long??

I checked myself out at the front desk of the emergency room. I was not entirely sure where in Manhattan I was. After stopping at a deli for juice and a bagel, I found an IRT train to go downtown and back home. Just get on the train.One or two stops later I noticed that the street numbers of the train stations were going up. I’m going uptown! Oh no! I got off the train and had to climb the stairs, cross the street, and repay my fare to enter on the other side to catch the downtown train. My legs, head, and whole body ached and screamed each step of the way. I woke up sitting head down, elbows on my knees at some point and watched as my orange juice bottle was rolling away toward the other side of the train car.

I reached Kings Highway exhausted, miserable, and unfortunately still semi-drunk. With the protection of angelic forces, I drove home safely. I snuck into the house, spoke to Mom as little as possible, and drifted off into a tortured sleep around noon, hoping that I could sleep off this cruel hangover. At 4:30pm I could sleep no longer and got up. I still felt like trash. How can I make this wretched hangover go away? I knew in my bones that the only definitive cure would be time and rest as unpleasant as it might be. It wasn’t until about 9pm the following night that I no longer felt hungover!

I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the full story from my mother as I tended toward straightforwardness for one and I also knew that the medical bill would be arriving in the mail before long. My mother was very unhappy with me and ensured me that I would be paying the bill, not her. When the ambulance bill[6] arrived in the mail eventually I did indeed pay all $600 of it, quite a painful sum for a 19-year-old college student. 

In October the New York Yankees defeated the New York Mets in a subway series, a huge deal for New Yorkers. The United States witnessed the closest presidential election in decades between candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore which would become controversial and need to be settled in the Supreme Court. And we were hearing alarming news about Mad Cow disease coming from Europe.

Throughout the summer, Modus Tollens had been auditioning several singers. Before we officially added a new singer, we released a demo-EP. The Familiarization Project[7] was a conglomeration of three different recording sessions done throughout the year of 2000 that captured my time as the lead singer of Modus Tollens. In the end it was a young man from the lower east side of Manhattan with a background in acapella singing groups, who got the gig, Adam Bank. We held an informal photo shoot as a new quintet. On Friday, November 24th, the night after Thanksgiving, we once again played KK’s[8]. Adam was new, so he and I traded duties as lead singer that night. 

While being replaced as the singer for a rock band in which I was the primary songwriter may have been a blow to my ego, it did indeed help me to grow. On the other hand, a boost to my ego was that I was being taken seriously as a composer at school. On December 6th, I performed with both the Brooklyn College Conservatory’s Small Jazz Combo and Big Band. We played many tasty jazz classics plus an original jazz composition of mine in each ensemble. I was honored to hear my music played by so many capable musicians in a live performance. Being a jazz composer was not a skill that I would develop much beyond college, but these experiences both playing and composing in the jazz traditions truly expanded my mind and abilities as an all-around musician and teacher. My worlds of jazz and rock would soon crossbreed in a unique and significant way.

One of the big influences on Modus Tollens from the get-go was the Dave Matthews Band (DMB). DMB was very popular at the time and really appealed to a wide audience which included both rock and pop fans. In addition to the band’s quirky and high-level guitar, bass, drums, and vocals was the rich use of violin and saxophone. Apparently, Modus Tollens was hungry for a rich musical experience comparable to what DMB offered. Personally, I was always very inspired by the saxophone use in Billy Joel’s band and cherished a secret wish to have my own killer saxophone player to work with one day.

There was a unique and funky-cool Japanese fellow in the Brooklyn College Jazz Ensemble who I was becoming friendly with. I admired the instinctive and guttural way he played sax and his cool atmosphere. I mentioned to the guys about a possible good fit - Aftab Motoyama. We invited Aftab to come down and jam with us. We quickly realized that he fit. Two short weeks later, on December 15th Modus Tollens played our first gig as a sextet at the legendary Brooklyn rock club L’amour. Our new lineup had little time to gel and develop our sound together, so this performance was rough, but we were growing in new and exciting directions. It was our first show with a saxophone player, and it was Aftab’s birthday to boot! On December 22nd, I turned 20 years old and looked forward to see where life would take me as we inched closer to the 2nd year of the new millennium – 2001.

[1] Watch on YouTube: Billy Joel – The Millennium Concert.    

[2] For Brooklynites, “the city” means Manhattan.

[5] More info can be found at www.saltmarshalliance.org.

[6] Jason Hills later put together a casual band project of his own briefly which he named after the terminology found on my medical report: Altered Mental Status.

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