I remember the exact moment I first heard of Come. It was 1991 and I was living in Madison. My then girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend was singing the praises of Thalia Zedek and a former band she’d been in, Uzi. He was especially excited about a new project she was involved with called Come. Considering his adulation for Thalia Zedek, and since I trusted both his taste in music as well as my ex’s, I quickly set out to find anything I could by both bands.
Uzi, it turned out, were a Boston band from the mid 80s. Unfortunately, tension between the two founding members, Thalia Zedek and drummer Danny Lee, led to the early demise of the band after only a few years together. They recorded one EP for Homestead records, but the breakup occurred before its release; hence, the five song EP, Sleep Asylum, was posthumously released in 1986. Unfortunately, distribution of the EP was not great and it was quickly out of print. Despite the lackluster distribution, word of mouth helped elevate Uzi to a band of near legendary status. When I finally tracked down Sleep Asylum, I quickly understood just what the all the hoopla was about. It rarely left my turntable for months.
In 1991, Come had just released their first record on Matador, Eleven:Eleven. Several months earlier, they had also put out a single called Car on Sub Pop for the label’s "Single of the Month Club." Come, though I was not aware at the time, was a bit of a Comeback for Zedek. After Uzi’s breakup, Zedek joined New York’s Live Skull and collaborated on three records. She had also gradually developed a nasty heroin addiction. After the breakup of Live Skull, she returned to Boston to kick the habit and attempt to get back on her feet.
Come started after Codeine drummer, Chris Brokaw, along with two recent Athens transplants, Arthur Johnson and Sean O’Brien, began jamming together in Boston. The three got in touch with Zedek and asked her to join them. Zedek accepted and found herself collaborating on a project she finally felt at ease with. Uzi was a band whose two co-founders never saw quite eye-to-eye. And with Live Skull, Zedek felt like somewhat of an outsider looking in on an already well-established band. A temporary visitor, if you will. But with Come, Zedek found herself involved from the ground floor up. Furthermore, with Brokaw, an Oberlin College graduate, she found an immediate musical affinity. After the release of Eleven:Eleven, Brokaw quit Codeine to devote himself full-time. The early nineties found Zedek back on her feet indeed.
Come‘s sound was a brilliant amalgam of bluesy Rolling Stones circa Sticky Fingers and Patty Smith. Zedek openly cited Smith as a crucial influence and a major reason why she picked up the guitar in the first place. And on Eleven:Eleven, Come paid homage to the Stones by covering "I Got the Blues."
I only managed to see Come a total of four times. I first saw them in Chicago at Lounge Ax on April 17, 1993. I know the exact date because I recorded it! They played a total of one hour. I was so enamored with the show that I resolved to head back to Madison and write the band ASAP. One aspect of the show that threw me for a loop, apart from how tight they were live, was just how goddamned many cigarettes Brokaw and Zedek smoked in the course of that fantastic hour. We’re talking chain smokin’ people. Yet, what made Come truly special was the instinctual manner in which Brokaw and Zedek’s guitars played off one other. It was as if both musicians were truly inside one another’s head. In my letter to the band, I recounted just how much the band moved me, both live and in the studio, and then finished the letter imploring them to not smoke so much.
I received a reply from Chris Brokaw. Chris modestly confessed that he thought the Lounge Ax show’s set list was a bit cumbersome and had not worked as well as they’d hoped. In sincere honesty, I responded back that the set list worked well and all the songs flowed together perfectly. Chris and I began writing letters to one another and a loose, faceless friendship of sorts formed. In several letters, I asked Come to play Madison and my wish was granted around a year later.
During the months leading up to Come‘s first Madison show (at Club de Wash), I was like a nervous ten-year old kid waiting to meet his favorite baseball player in person. When I did finally introduce my girlfriend and myself to Chris, we both found him to be an extremely kind and modest person. By that time, Come’s second record, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, had been released and Chris had I had been discussing it in letters for some time.
Words cannot adequately describe just how amazing this record is and just how much it moved me and still does to this day. This record, simply put, is a masterpiece. Suffice it to say that it’s one of those incredible records that, like any amazing art, may move a person so much it actually makes one shed tears. Think "Sixteen Blue" and "Unsatisfied" by the ‘Mats, Big Star’s #1 Record, the Jayhawk’s "Anne Jane" or the Pretenders "2000 Miles," especially after your little brother has just passed away. You get the picture. We all have those bands and records that are truly cathartic for us. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell FLOORS me.
Before the show, Chris asked me which song I especially wished to hear off of the new record. For the life of me, I don’t remember which song I requested, but I’m pretty sure it was either "Yr Reign," "German Song, " or "Arrive." What I do remember is that the show was amazing, though not quite as great as the Lounge Ax show. What I also remember is that I got good and drunk throughout the show and pretty much made an ass out of myself after the show while drunkenly telling Chris the show was "Awesome." My nervousness about speaking to one of my favorite band’s members somehow required liquid courage and to this day I still regret my inebriation.
Come would eventually play Madison one more time, though by that time, I had moved to Seattle. After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, both Arthur Johnson and Sean O’Brien left the band. In 1996, Come released Near Life Experience with only Zedek and Brokaw remaining as original members. On NLE, Come utilized a number of stand-in musicians, including Mac McNeilly, Bundy Brown, and John McEntire. This record also marked the first time Brokaw would sing lead vocals on any song. The two songs, "Secret Numbers" and "Shoot Me First," represented one-fourth of all of the songs on the record. The superb working relationship between Zedek and Brokaw remained steadfast, especially evidenced by Zedek’s willingness to share the microphone.
Around 1996, I was again able to catch Come when they played the Crocodile in Seattle. They were the opening band, if memory serves me correctly, for Girls Against Boys. It was a good show, not a great one. Brokaw spent the entire show on a chair and the new band just did not sound quite as tight as the original four. Then again, Come were a lot like pizza or sex. Even on an off night, they were still thoroughly enjoyable.
Before that show, I introduced myself to Chris once again and only told him my first name, explaining who I was. He immediately said my last name, which impressed me. By that time we had ceased writing one another, so I was especially flattered.
I managed to see Come one more time at the Crocodile. They played a very solid and enjoyable show, this time headlining the show. I think the year was 1998 and it was around the time of their final release, Gently Down The Stream. Shortly thereafter, in 1999, Come disbanded.
A few months back, Henry asked me if I had any good radio shows of Come. I told him I had a few and then he asked me if I’d be willing to write a quick piece on them. I quickly told him that I would. I eventually sent Henry some live radio shows, one of which Chris Brokaw sent me back in ’93 after I’d sent him the Lounge Ax show I recorded.
Truth be told, this piece was difficult to write. I struggled to understand the reason why, and, as I later told Henry, the answer eventually dawned on me when I began listening to Come often again in order to find extra inspiration. The cause for the writer’s block was the exact same reason I had almost completely ceased listening to Come in recent years. They are so emotionally intense to me that it’s frankly difficult to revisit their records. Perhaps it’s also that their music reminds me of the old days–lost love, the passing of time, the drifting apart of friendships, the loss of an immediate family member, etc. There you have it. Not exactly uplifting words on a humorous music magazine’s site.
Since the breakup of one of the greatest bands of ’90s-nay, one of the greatest bands ever in this writer’s humble opinion-both Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw have remained very active. Both have released more than a few solo records. Brokaw has also been involved in several other bands, most notably the New Year, Consonant, and Dirtmusic.
And for the record, if Chris, Thalia, Arthur, or Sean happens to read this (or anyone else ever involved in creating Come’s music), I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for providing the world with some truly amazing music.
Come – WERS 1992
Come – William (Peel Session 92)
Come – Off To One Side/Bell (Peel Session 92)
Come – WMBR 1991