Peter Cummings

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This week I learned of the death of two people influential to my life, though each in different ways. The first was illustrator David Sutherland III, whose work for TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons series fueled my early dreamlife. Reading between the lines, it seems that Mr. Sutherland, 56, was hitting the sauce pretty hard. He had many disappoints in life, it seems. He was rumored to be bitter about his divorce.

The other passing of importance to me is that of Peter Cummings (link goes to his former Holiday Clocks bandmate, Gideon Freudmann). Peter and I met on Cape Cod in a desultory period in both our lives in the early 1990s. Peter was turning thirty and I, 20. Through a mutual love of music and dadaism (or perhaps whimsy is a better word), we began to record music together on his four track cassette recorder.

What Peter never knew was that I was after his fetching girlfriend, whom I had met working for a fast food place and wanted to get to know in a Biblic sense. However, that pursuit turned out to be a non-starter (sadly). The collabrative relationship with Peter, in contrast, went swimmingly.

The style of composing was simply to allow one person to lay down a track. Then the other person would lay down a possibly complementary track separately. Often, the other person wouldn’t be in the room (or even the house) when the new track was recorded. The idea was to get music that wasn’t polished or, frankly, composed. Peter and I were, in a muddled-headed way, protesting the polished excrement peddled to the masses on top-40 radio stations every day. While our complaint wasn’t particularly innovative or original, it was what motivated us.

We’d scream, use toys, loop 1/4” tape “samples”, bang on pots and pans, scream some more, sing through the cheesy “William Shatner” mic, play Peter’s psychadelic telecaster with rust-caked strings, play Peter’s stout 1940’s New York archtop, record “spoken word” on a dictaphone and generally have quite a rolicking time. While walking through a graveyard, we noticed a tombstone inscribed with the words “Mother Bodfish” and that become the working title of our project. We had talked about releasing our work on some crazy label. The cover would feature a strong, suffragette in sepia tones braving looking into East. On the back would be the hovel that Pete lived in with both of us passed out in the squalor. Alas, we were both a bit too unorganized to take our project beyond the cottage.

When I have more time, I’ll digitize Mother Bodfish, but until then, here’s a great track of Pete’s called Silver Hat, which he recorded on the “Throne of Wax” album. It’s dubbed from a cassette, so don’t expect too much fidelity. Here’s quite an autobiographical one called Any Given Day, 1995, from his last album “Cartoons.”

Peter passed away after Christmas 2004 from complications caused by scleroderma at the age of 42. Peter was a gentle soul, but he had a self-destructive side that was painful to witness. Pete and I spoke in 2003, I think. I blew him off, not wanting to get sucked back into the Bad Crazy of my twenties. Part me wishes I’d seen him, but part of me didn’t want to deal with his oncoming fatality. I don’t do death well.

Peter should be remember for his substantial talent, both musically and as a writer, and for his skewed perspective on life. Oh, and he was a (crazy) chick magnet.

Not a wholy bad life after all, Mr. Cummings. A tad too short, perhaps.