The Last Days of Unwound

courtesy Kill Rock Stars

My favorite band was (and still is) Unwound. I managed to see them live at the Palace (now the Avalon) when they opened for the Melvins and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion right after 9/11. They broke up on April 1, 2002.

On their website, they link to an interview they did with Maura Magazine that details the finals months of the band.

Vern Rumsey: I did break both of my hands. We tried to play with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Melvins in L.A. and my hands hurt so bad that I could hardly play. That was the first time I reached out for help by talking to Buzz [Osborne] about my addictions. It took me several years to get into rehab, and I have been in and out ever since. It’s sad. I hate to see other bands that I love self-destruct, but it happens.

Justin Trosper: We finished the last show of the tour without Vern. I don’t really know what to say, except that it was awkward. I guess the audience at The Smell [in Los Angeles] was gracious. We limped home and cancelled the rest of our tours in Europe and Japan.

Reading that last night hit me a bit for obvious reasons. I knew Vern was in bad shape at the time, but I didn’t realize it was that bad. Perhaps the saddest thing written was what David Scott Stone (touring musician for the last tour) said:

I have no doubt that Unwound would have had the same success that Modest Mouse has if alcoholism hadn’t dimmed all that is bright.

Let’s get this clear and into the open… the only concern about the whole tour was Vern’s drinking. This is why Unwound stopped playing. This peaked just outside San Diego, where Vern downed two Long Island Iced Teas just before hitting the stage. Who knows how much he had been drinking throughout the day, but it had been bad for a long time before that. We tried to play three or four songs before Justin walked off, followed by Sara, then Brandt. I was the last to leave, and looking back I saw [Vern] with his head back, swaying to the drone of feedbacking guitars lying on the stage—then snapping out of it and looking around for the rest of us, only to see the stage empty. He stumbled backstage, plopped himself on the couch, and drunkingly slurred “I just want you to know that none of you could be as mad at me as I’m mad at myself,” then got up and punched the walls, breaking both his wrists. Every show we worried about how he was going to be that night, but that was pretty much it. They then went back as a three-piece to do one last tour of the West Coast.

It’s pretty sad to write about this. I love Vern, but I don’t feel it’s helpful to not openly address the reasons why the band stopped working. I dealt with my issues eight years ago, and I’ll always be there for him when he’s ready.

Here’s Unwound playing the song “Envelope” live in Pensacola, FL back in 1998: