This column is a companion to yesterday’s Whipkey Three feature (which, if you haven’t read yet, you should right now. Go!). We rarely consider the role pets play in the creative process (or in our lives). Now it’s Sage’s turn…
Column 195: Remembering Coco
What’s more inspiring than a dog?
There’s a dedication in the liner notes of the new Whipkey Three CD. Among the thank yous to family and friends is this message:
“For Coco, who heard these before anyone.”
Coco wasn’t a brother or sister, but she was still a member of Matt Whipkey’s and Sarah Benck’s family. Coco was a Boston Terrier. “She was my dog,” Sarah said.
Their relationship began two-and-a-half years ago. Sarah had been living alone in an apartment and needed a friend to keep her company. “After my family’s dog died, I felt like I wanted a pet in my life, a dog in my life, a companion,” she said. “I tried to rationalize all the reasons not to get a dog, that I wouldn’t have enough time for her, but in the end, it worked out.”
Sarah found Coco through the Midamerica Boston Terrier Rescue, an organization that helps find homes for the breed after they’ve been liberated from puppy-mill hellholes. Coco was one such survivor, a breeding dog that outlived her usefulness to the human filth who run such operations. After seven years spent in a cage (no one really knows for sure how old she was), Coco needed a new home.
“I remember seeing her and feeling like ‘Wow, that’s my dog,'” Sarah said. “Her hair was the same color as mine. She was just my dog.”
And just like that, Coco found herself embedded into the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, taking on a new role as Sarah’s faithful companion and creative muse. She was a tiny patchwork of auburn and white, with the classic squished-up Boston Terrier face that looked like Ernest Borgnine in Marty, offset with batlike ears and wide, staring eyes. Wherever Sarah went, there was Coco, surveying the landscape from an ankle-high vantage point.
It didn’t take long until she worked her way into Sarah’s music. No, that baby girl that Sarah sang about on the title track of her last album, Neighbor’s Garden, wasn’t her daughter. It was Coco.
“I started writing that song one day sitting in my apartment, just me and her,” Sarah said. “I didn’t know what to write about, and looked over at her and started writing. It’s a song about knowing that I wasn’t going to have a lot of time with her. seeing how old she was. It’s about what I wish her life would be like ideally, or what her life will be like in heaven.”
The song’s chorus: “I wish you could run through the tall grass / Swim with ease / Stand the tallest / And I’ll do what I can to make you happy.“
As soon as Matt Whipkey began dating Sarah, Coco became his muse as well, or at least an impartial sounding board. “She was sitting right next to me when I was writing the songs on the new album,” Matt said. “She would listen. She played a part in the writing process, as much as a pet can.”
Coco would accompany Sarah when Matt played acoustic shows at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield. And when Sarah would join him on stage for a song, Coco would sit between her legs “like a member of the band,” Matt said.
Eventually, Coco even followed Sarah and the band downstairs into the basement for practices. Matt said he was concerned that the noise was too loud for a dog. “Most dogs would run out of a room with the sound of a snare, but not Coco,” Matt said. “Sarah thought she liked the music.” But the fact was, by the beginning of this year, Coco already was stone deaf, no longer even able to hear the tinkling sound of the treat-jar lid. Toward the end, Coco would stand next to Sarah’s bass cabinet while she played.
The seizures started coming in May; their frequency and severity increased daily. Finally, on Memorial Day, Coco found herself in a pet ER. The vet diagnosed a brain tumor. The next afternoon Coco went to sleep for good.
“She was always around,” Sarah remembers. “Matt put her in the liner notes because she was the first one to hear his songs. She wasn’t the kind of dog that would come and sit on your lap, but she was always right there by you, following you from room to room. When she wasn’t there anymore, the house just seemed empty. It was kind of scary to come home without hearing the little sounds she makes.”
Less than two months later, on the Fourth of July, Matt and Sarah adopted Sage, another Boston Terrier rescued from a puppy mill. At only four years old, Sage already is helping Matt test new material. “She sat right there the other day while I played, and tilted her head a little when the harmonica came in,” Matt said.
Will Sage become The Whipkey Three’s new mascot? “If she wants to be,” Matt said. “She’s scared of (drummer) Zip (Zimmerman). She runs away from the sight of him.”
Matt said she’s still adjusting to her new life. Sage knows that she’s got some big paws to fill.
* * *
Here’s another review from intern Brendan Greene-Walsh:
Her Space Holiday, Sleepy Tigers (Mush Records) — Marc Bianchi is the mastermind behind Her Space Holiday, a band that traditionally has been tethered by a short leash to the world of computer composition. Bianchi decided to cut the cord that bound him and attempt to get back to some of the more simple things in music; guitars, banjos, live percussion and even glockenspiel. Sleepy Tigers is a four-song EP that doubles as the lead up single to HSH’s next full length. The music is a vast departure from Bianchi’s previous efforts. In place of synth-heavy dance songs, Bianchi took to the guitar to write light-hearted pop folk tunes. The EP is bouncy and jovial by nature, setting your foot a-tapping and bringing a smile to your face. It’s pretty difficult for a band to go in a new creative direction and do it well, but Bianchi shows no sign of struggle here. Rating: Yes — Brendan Greene-Walsh
Tim Sez: Listen as former electro-tech-mechanic Bianchi trades synth-beats for hand claps, tambourine, whistles and acoustic guitars — as if someone locked him in a room with Tilly and the Wall or Lightspeed Champion or Michel Gondry. It’s cute. Almost too cute. Which makes for an ironic counterbalance for lyrics draped in everyday loneliness. As an EP, it works, but anything beyond four songs (in this style) could get mighty tedious. Rating: Yes.
Tonight at Slowdown it’s Indigo Girl Amy Ray, out on the road with her band supporting her new album Didn’t It Feel Kinder on Daemon Records. Ray takes the tunage into a heavier direction than on her albums with Emily Saliers (the other Indigo Girl), at times pushing it into Melissa Etheridge territory. The best track is an upbeat acoustic number titled “Cold Shoulder” that could be a hit if radio had the cajones to play a song about a gay woman hoping to seduce a straight woman, where Ray sings about hanging with “the deviants and the tranny nation.” Opening is Arizona, a band that actually hails from Asheville North Carolina and plays rootsy indie psychedelic rock. $15, 9 p.m.
Also tonight, LA-based indie band The Little Ones (who sound like a lite version of Tokyo Police Club) plays at The Waiting Room with Sleep Said the Monster. $8, 9 p.m.
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