I met Tony Sly when I was in sixth grade. Back then, he was just my buddy Jon's kid brother. You tend to ignore your friend's younger siblings at that age, don't you? But that was only until I realized what great taste in music he had. Eventually, I got to know Tony – and got to benefit directly from his record collection. I'm pretty sure I still have a box of duped tape copies.
Over the last few years, I mostly kept up with Tony through his brother Jon, who was perhaps one of his most strident supporters. Next to his mom. And his dad. And his other brother. And his wife. And really anyone who knew Tony. That's because he was the kind of guy you rooted for. Because he was such a real and warm person. He wasn't a rock star. Though you'd have a hard time convincing his fans of that.
Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of recording harmonies on a new song Tony wrote for an album of mostly acoustic NUFAN covers. The result was his last new song, Liver Let Die (click the link to hear the song). I hadn't heard it before this week. When I did, I got chills. It's a little pop gem. I'm told that Tony thought it was just a throw-away song. I got the feeling Tony thought that way about a lot of his songs. I don't think he knew his own talent.
In the last couple of years, Tony set out on a solo career. I believe he was on the verge of being appreciated more for the songwriter he was – a damn good one. When I go back and listen to a lot of the NUFAN songs, I'm struck by how well crafted they all are. Stripped of the rapid fire drums and power chords, and you have the heart of a true singer songwriter. He showed this to great effect in the re-tooling of many of his bands popular songs found on the Acoustic and Acoustic 2 albums done with Joey Cape from Lagwagon. His last album, Sad Bear, shows a range that I think truly set him apart as a songwriter amongst his peers. It's the best thing he ever wrote, in my opinion. He was just getting started.
Which makes his passing all the sadder. I never grasped how popular he and his band were – until this week when I saw the outpouring of love and support from fans and musicians around the world. But that's because, to me, Tony was just a regular guy. He didn't play the rock star role. Or the neglected artist role. Both of which he was more than justified in doing. After all, here's a guy some credit with forging an entirely new genre of melodic punk rock. I just knew him as a warm and generous guy that loved to laugh and be around his friends and family.
I know it doesn't help now, but I hope his wife Brigitte, his two girls, and the rest of his family take some comfort in the fact that his legacy will live on through his music. We were all better to have had Tony in our lives, rather than not at all. Again, I know this is of little comfort now. My heart goes out to his whole family while they come to terms with this huge loss.
I will miss you Tony. And thank you for turning me onto a new way of thinking about music.