In the music industry, particularly the more punk and/or emo (eeew) world of the last 20 years, you will find no shortage of people vastly more famous than me who knew Craig Aaronson much better than I did. For those of you who don’t know, Craig was an A&R man who was responsible for signing quite a few of your favorite bands. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like underground bands jumping to majors, firstly, you’re old, and secondly, you probably don’t think much of Craig’s legacy. However, if you weren’t born cool, chances are, Craig’s work impacted you by bringing some band you’d otherwise have never heard of to the big leagues. To name a few, At the Drive-In, Less Than Jake, Jimmy Eat World, Against Me!, My Chemical Romance, Avenged Sevenfold, Taking Back Sunday, all these bands were ‘discovered’ by Craig. I bring this up because last night Craig passed away after what was apparently a long battle with cancer.
I had lost touch with Craig, but I first met him when I was 17 in LA. He was an enthusiastic dude who was so nice that even though I was “punk” and therefore wary of label suits (keep in mind, this was back when the music industry had money), I dropped my guard and decided that I’d love to show him the new final mix of an album called Lookit! That I’d just finished helping to make with a band I was in called Slapstick. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, my copy of this new recording was on an unscreened cassette. Craig and I went into his (awesome) sports car and blasted the Slapstick record. He seemed really jazzed. I remember him saying “Brendan, man. This is LOUD!” and just kinda cracking up. He gave me his Capitol Records business card and I gave him my home number (this was pre cell phone) and from then on, Craig and I were connected.
Craig tried to sign Slapstick, but was thwarted by a series of events that culminated in us breaking up. As soon as I formed a new band, called the Broadways, Craig was right there, asking what we needed. He ended up buying me an 8 track recorder that was incredibly state of the art at the time, and got our crappy record (Broken Star) mastered in one of his Capitol studios for free. When he asked if we’d like to make the jump to “major distribution,” punk cred kicked in and we said no. We high fived the rest of the losers about getting free shit from “the man” and ignored that we’d PROBABLY just made a huge error. It wasn’t like Craig’s track record was questionable. He was signing bands and doing great things for them. He was enthusiastic, and he was a true champion of his artists. That’s a goddamn dream A&R guy. And we were cowards. Punk cowards. But whatever. That’s how we rolled. And that was that between Craig and I for a while.
(to interject here, the Broadways were an extremely uncommercial band, and beyond that, we were volatile, personnel-wise. I’m not sure we’d have continued Craig’s track record of success, so perhaps this all happened for the best).
When the Lawrence Arms started (that’s the band I’m in now), I didn’t hear from Craig, which wasn’t surprising. I’d burned him with the Broadways and he’d become very successful by this time. I assumed that I’d never hear from him again. However, once we put out an EP called Present Day Memories, a bunch of people came out of the woodwork, among them: some lady from Roadrunner(!), Fat Mike, Rich from Vagrant, and my old buddy Craig Aaronson.
Craig, it turned out, had just made a move to Grand Royal, where he’d signed At The Drive-In, who was a band that we all admired. Beyond that, Grand Royal was a COOL label. They only had maybe 6 acts, they were run by Mike D of the Beastie Boys as well as the A&R/Management duo responsible for Nirvana, and they didn’t fuck around signing bands they didn’t care about. Craig was back, he was as enthusiastic as ever, he betrayed no hard feelings and to be honest, I was fucking excited. We all were. This seemed like a cool move for our band. We gave him the acoustic demos (recorded on the same 8 track he’d bought me years before) for what would ultimately end up being our record called Apathy & Exhaustion, and with those tapes, he had enough ammo to go drum up interest from his bosses. This was an exciting time. We thought things were really about to take off for us. We were about to embark on a leg of the Warped Tour and Craig indicated that he’d set up a situation where we’d get to play in front of the Grand Royal brass very soon.
Well, some of you may know how this story ends. Craig called in some favors and got us on the Chicago date of the Warped Tour on a main stage in a prime time slot. He arranged for the big 3 Grand Royal owners to be in the crowd. Everyone who worked at Warped Tour, curious about what kind of band could get these kinds of strings pulled, and this kind of music industry royalty to fly out to see them, were also in attendance. Shit was set.
Well, shit was almost set. Firstly, I’d been a dick to my girlfriend the day before, and she was very mad at me, which was putting me in a foul mood that I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried. The day was hot, and people in attendance at Warped Tour were fainting like crazy. Ambulances were coming in and out of the grounds seemingly on a loop. Our roadie at the time was born with a rare condition—he has no sweat glands. Hot days are dangerous for him. Due to lack of shade and water, he had to leave and go home. When I found out water was 7 dollars a bottle, I hit the roof. We went on stage, I said some shit, and we played our set. I don’t know if it was my shitty attitude, our crappy songs, the fact that we just weren’t really that great of a live band at the time or some combination of all of those, but guess what? We didn’t get signed to Grand Royal. In fact, they went tits up and shut their doors the VERY NEXT DAY. Craig was cool and apologetic, but aside from a few times he sent me emails or called to find out how to get ahold of some of my friends in cool bands, we never talked business again. He got burned. Again. By me. Cool.
Craig was so nice, so enthusiastic and so supportive, even to a petulant shit like me who didn’t deserve to even know his name, much less eat his lunches and spend his money and blow off his phone calls. He was always cool, always happy and one of the few people I’ve ever met in the music industry who genuinely loved what he did, and the music he was a part of sharing with the world. Now he’s dead. What a goddamn loss. Craig wasn’t my best friend or my mentor or any of that shit. I’m not trying to cuddle up to the dead, as so many do when people pass away. We didn’t have a huge, significant relationship at all. But, Craig was a very nice guy that I knew for 20 years, and I’m sad he’s gone. That’s all. RIP, buddy. xoxo