The earliest files I have on Colin Gawel indicate that he went to Worthington High School, where he smiled a lot and played the guitar.
He was pals with Mike McDermott, and that’s how I met him. Mike needed a ride home from the restaurant where we worked, and they lived in the Harrison House apartment building, where they liked to drink beer and look out the windows and smile a lot.
I liked to do those things, too. So pretty soon, I started venturing out to campus bars with them, even though I was about seventeen. It didn’t seem to matter what you showed the bartenders back then, or whose picture was on it, as long as you showed them something.
Sometimes I was Ralph, sometimes I was Rich, sometimes I was Randy – none of them looked like anything like me, because they had made it all the way through puberty.
Colin was in a band called The Wire, so that made him pretty cool. What I remember most about The Wire was a cassette tape they made with a song on it called “Fire Behind.”
I thought it was so cool, that I ripped it off and ripped Stephen King off while I was at it, by starting my first novel and calling it Fire Behind. It was about a shapeshifting Stephen King monster, who ran afoul of me and the guys from The Wire, with different names.
Never finished it, but I’ll give you a hint – we were going to win. I think I wrote a hundred pages, just enough to plunk down in front of girls and say, heh? Weird little dude but he’s writing a book, right? Right?
Hit and miss, if you’re wondering. My advice would definitely be, go ahead and learn how to play the guitar.
When the guys from The Wire – Mike McDermott turned out to be their manager, which I hadn’t known at first – when they decided to get serious, they changed their name to Watershed. It was a watershed moment for them, was the idea.
We used to go down to campus and hang out at their house, and sneak into their shows even though we were kids. A good way to get into a bar back then, without an ID, was to go in with Colin Gawel, and carry the guitar case. I developed a perfect bass-player-face for walking in like that.
They even played at my high school. I set it up through the Student Council and they played in the gym, while I grinned on the edges of the stage, thinking, man – this is going to work so much better than a hundred pages of typewritten Stephen King copy.
When they went on Spring Break that year, we were all too young to go with them, and so instead, we got the keys to their place. We got to hang around on campus and get a glimpse of our not-too-distant futures, and while we were at it, we made the giant Watershed banner, which they displayed behind the band for many, many years. Surprised them with it when they got back.
Then a few years later, they got signed, a big crazy Sony deal. We all went down to Panama City and made lots of new enemies.
For instance, when we walked into the rental office – Sony had booked and paid for the place – it was so high-end that they frowned at us.
Maybe because we were reeking of beer at eleven in the morning. Maybe it was just a grooming thing – we weren’t big on it. But the lady who gave us the key said, “You know, this is a really nice, family building. It’s not like a big party place, okay?”
And we blinked at her for a couple of frozen moments, and then a guy called The Catfish said, “Well, you guys have insurance, right?”
Something happened with Sony – I don’t know what. They were supposed to be the next Spin Doctors (made sense at the time) but I never really got a grasp on it. They put out some CDs, but the giant MTV push just never happened.
Then I ran off and got married and had a baby – not in that order – and ten years or so went by, and suddenly me and Colin were standing in the coffee shop he owns. He was wearing an apron and I was wearing a suit, and we were just blinking at each other.
What the hell had just happened?
Two guys who once had so much hair between us that we could have woven it together and windsurfed with it. We’d sat around on a dozen porches and rooftops, talking to the sky. Now both of us had wives and kids and phones in our pockets.
Who were these wives? Where had they come from? Why had they married us? Where was our hair – where was it?
But I’ll tell you what we both still like to do – we like to drink beer, and we like to smile. And Colin likes to play the guitar, and I like to write.
You know how in movies, when the band dudes grow up, and one of them says to the other, “You changed, man! You used to be about the music!”
Well, listen. I’ve watched a lot of my friends grow from boys into men. I’ve watched dreams drop to the floor like little black dresses, wrinkled and robbed of their glory. I’ve watched rockers turn into tools, just as simply as if they’d been bitten on the neck.
A lot of guys just shrug while they shuck their insurance policies or time shares, and they say, well, that’s just life. You have to let go of the past, and grow up.
But there are some who held onto their barrels, all the way over the falls. Woke up on the river banks with their arms wrapped around it, that one thing that made them who they were all along. That one thing that they needed to keep.
And that’s the Legend of Colin Gawel, my friends. A husband, father, small business-owner, and also the guy from the band that you knew in college, who never stopped being about the music.