Erica Zwickel, Our Friend

Aquarian Weekly 12/19/02 REALITY CHECK


all nearness pauses, while a star can grow– e.e. cummings

Erica Zwickel was my friend. She acted like it all the time. Whenever I called her. Whenever I needed her. For anything. Not some times, all times. She was honestly one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet in my experience as a professional writer, and I’ve met plenty.

Erica died last week.

She was 30 years old.

I met her in 1995 while researching the first few weeks of what would become my first published book, “Deep Tank Jersey’. It is a book read by many of the people reading this paper, working for this paper, in bands plugged in this paper. It is a book that could not have been imagined without her. Many of the people in it, an astounding amount, joined me in saying good-bye to her this past Sunday.

But Sunday was less a funeral than a celebration of her considerable spirit, because if there was one thing Erica embodied it was the spirit of anything she set her mind to.

What she set her mind to for over a decade was the New Jersey rock and roll scene, its bands, its venues, and its ups and downs. Mostly, Erica kept a band called DogVoices running. Literally.

She was the engine, the siren, the dyed in the wool, cruising, bruising, straight-to-the-heart and beyond-the-call backbone of DogVoices, a band that following that crazed summer and the book’s release became something of a NJ icon and more or less a traveling halleluiah whiz-bang of a circus.

And Erica was never its ringmaster or carnival barker. She never took a bow or begged for an encore, but there was no circus, there was no DogVoices without Erica.

“It’s my natural high!” she told me on several counts over the years.

This is where Erica was at during her twenty-third year on the planet when I waltzed into the wild fray to pen my book about a band on the road trying to survive. She was a baby-faced kid going on 40, chuckling beneath dimples and shiny bright eyes, but tough as nails. I called her Finley because despite being a nice Jewish girl she looked like a jolly Irish lass. Before I knew what the hell I was doing, before I had stories and anecdotes and relationships forged to unfurl my view of what I would eventually dub, Clubland, Erica welcomed me in with the smile of an angel and the grip of a den mother.

No one who was there, or spent five minutes around the band needs to hear anymore, but this is what I eventually summed up on page 345:

“I hate this place,” I told Erica as we stood in our cramped corner of Nardi’s Tavern for what seemed like the hundredth time. The charm and humor at watching the most insane party on earth had been worn out on me. The long summer was coming to a close, but with Labor Day looming in the foreground the race was far from over. The madness was taking its toll. Everyone seemed on edge during the evening, including the band. “I love the people here,” Erica enthused, shocked by my vitriolic comment. “There are better rooms to see these guys, but people here are so grateful for a good band.”

Watching her gather the mound of tee shirts from the back of Richie’s jeep, sliding them through her right arm and diligently counting each one in a quick inventory check, I smiled. Erica was one of those reliable constants in a quick cutthroat, backstabbing, change-a-minute business of slugs and leeches clinging to one fad after another. Erica truly loved this work, the people she met, and the guys in the band. They could count on her for anything and everything, and often did. She had embraced me like no one else right from the start; handing me earplugs, deflecting annoying drunks and groping women, and laughing at my warped aphorisms and jokes like an old friend who understood loneliness during my slow acclimation. She was a real person growing in a plastic world, but I didn’t worry that she’d come out all right. Her dedication to perfection and hard-working ethic would make her a success in anything she wanted to do. She did not need Clubland as much as she claimed, but loved it just the same. Nothing derailed sweet Erica, or brought her down the entire time I’d known her. “Why don’t you get out of here before you crack up,” she suggested, wisely. “I’m going to miss you,” I told her. She curled her bottom lip in a mock pout, then flashed me her innocent smile. “I’m gonna miss you more,” she said.

Erica was wrong about that. I miss her more.

We all do.

If you just knew what she was about, what she meant to a whole bunch of tired and confused people precariously balanced on the high wire then you’d know she lied about who would miss who more.

There should be more people around like Erica Zwickel. There’s one less.

And we are all poorer for it.

Good-bye Finley.

We miss you more.

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