57 Years of Music and Friendship

CHP volunteer Steve Pavis and I have a long history. We’ve known each other since kindergarten and for most of our 57 years of friendship Steve has been my music “guru”. As kids, Steve’s musical knowledge and tastes were much more sophisticated than mine, (I remember him talking about Hendrix when we were in 6th grade … I was clueless), and I looked up to Steve as one of the hipper kids at St. Clare’s school on Staten Island – I wanted to be hip, too!

Through all these many, many days since 6th grade, Steve has remained my musical touchstone. As recently as this month I was at his house and he was playing a song whose singer had one of the most unusual voices I’ve ever heard. For the umpteenth time I directed the phrase “Who is that?” at Steve. He responded, “Oh, that’s Antony and the Johnsons” and BANG! The connection was made. “Yes!!” I responded, “Antony and the Johnsons! Some of their songs were covered by The Unthanks, an English folk group. What a strange voice the singer has… but beautiful. Who turned you onto them?” That night I downloaded an Antony and the Johnsons album and the next day I was sending Becca YouTube videos … “Check this out!!” That’s how it works, you see, that’s how music connects us.

During the punk rock era of the late ‘70s Steve singlehandedly introduced me to bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, The Dead Boys, X-Ray Spex, and The Adverts. This period of musical immersion and discovery had a huge effect on me that remains to this day. I’ve never stopped listening and I’ve never stopped asking Steve, “Who are you listening to these days?”

Steve and I were out of touch for a period during the 1990s when he was working in insurance in Manhattan and I was a high school teacher in New Jersey. One day I found a note in my school mailbox that someone named “Steve” had called regarding a “St. Clare’s class of 1972 reunion.” It sounded like a joke and I had a good idea of who the joker was. I called the number, someone picked up and the first thing I heard was “What’s with the attitude, Fitz? I didn’t drop the ball so it had to be you!!” A few weeks later I was standing outside Film Forum in Tribeca waiting to see a documentary about the Sex Pistols. Fast toward a few years and I’m standing next to Steve inside Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan watching a new band called The Airborne Toxic Event. That was over a decade ago and we’ve been going to live music events ever since, right up until COVID-19 shut us down. We stick to small venues like Bowery Ballroom and, even better, tiny venues like Mercury Lounge and, before it closed, Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Most of the bands we see are up and coming and we are seeing them because Steve has a hunch that the band has something special going on.

Steve moved to Southern California a few years ago so instead of going to shows together we would discuss music over the phone. During this same period Becca and I were developing The Coffeehouse Project into a full fledged music organization and I kept telling Steve that if he moved back East he had to be part of it. When Steve did move back a year ago I saw our opportunity and asked him to help us facilitate music sessions at day programs for adults with special needs. As I had expected, Steve was very good at getting our participants revved up and rocking while we deejayed or played some live music on guitar. When COVID-19 forced CHP to switch to Zoom as our music platform, Steve came along.

Recently we’ve been guest volunteering with the Moon Base “Making Connections” project at the Black Box, an arts organization in Belfast, Northern Ireland. One result of this collaboration is that we’ve been doing transatlantic recording projects and Steve, at our urging, has become … a singer!!

So far Steve has been lead vocalist on “Tear Stained Eye” (Son Volt), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and, most recently, “Another Girl, Another Planet” (The Only Ones). The latter two songs are part of our shared history. “Come Together” was a single we were listening to in 6th grade. I first heard “Another Girl, Another Planet” at Steve’s house in 1978. The Son Volt song was new to me but Steve led me to it. So the music connection continues and continues to nourish our friendship. Steve and I were sitting in the same classroom on the Monday morning after The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. We were cheering in the same theater when The Clash played their first ever show in New York City in February 1979. I was at Steve’s house last week helping him record vocals. It’s been a rocking 57 years together… Life goes better with music!