1) When/how did you first meet Gene?
I probably met Gene sometime in ’85. Our debut album had done well and our record label – in the form of one guy, Harry Barnes – was looking to expand on his initial success with us. Harry gave me a tape of some mixes of this band, Adam Again, that he was working with. I found them fascinating, and thankfully, so totally different from anything else in Christian music. I recall my first impression was lots of Talking Heads flavor, and Gene and Michele’s vocals reminded me of John Doe and Exene. I soon learned Gene couldn’t be categorized. I can’t remember the exact setting where I met Gene, but he instantly came off as someone different. He was a bit different or shy at first, but once I got to know him(he didn’t have much choice), I liked him a lot. He was one of those guys that always had something going on and a story to tell.
2) What projects were you involved in with him?
I was so intrigued by what he was doing that I pestered him to play keyboards with Adam Again for a stretch in ‘86/’87 I believe it was. The Blue Collar bands (Undercover, Adam Again, 4-4-1) did both Icthus and Cornerstone in ‘86. Adam Again had a choice slot in the evening one night and totally rocked the place. I still remember Gene, with like 10,000 people in front of him, asking if anyone knew if the Dodgers had one that day. Nuts.
So, after that I did a few smaller gigs with them and then we shared a stage at Cornerstone. It was a lot of fun to go back-to-back with sets by 4-4-1 and Adam Again. Sometime later Gene then (wisely) got a real keyboard player. I was grateful for the experience.
Once Harry had us, Undercover and Adam Again in the Blue Collar stable and national distribution, he needed help in promotion and marketing. Gene and I worked at Harry’s house in Monterey Park, CA most weekdays getting the word out to radio stations, sending singles, etc. Once again, a lot of fun and a lot of laughing. Our little room at Harry’s house had one piece of art on the wall, which was Howard Finster’s painting he did for Adam Again’s first album cover.
By ’88 Blue Collar was no more and neither was 4-4-1. Joe and Gene had started to revive Broken Records, and I was still very much into continuing music. John McNamara (4-4-1 singer) and I talked with Joe and Gene about doing a record with them, and they urged us to use the 4-4-1 name which the other guys graciously agreed to. I knew I wanted Gene to produce the record with me, so we spent a good part of 1988 together working on that project, plus things like helping Joe’s solo record and other stuff. After we wrapped the record, I also went to work for Broken on promotions.
There’s nothing like all-nighters in a studio to get to know someone, and Gene and I had some great times. We interspersed all the work with road trips for things we both liked – Vegas, horse racing and Dodger games. Gene was always on the edge financially, but he knew how to have a good time.
3) How do you think Gene shaped/impacted the music scene?
I don’t pretend to be an expert on the music scene. From what I saw, his style was so different from anything that was going on and he did what he did so well that it must have had a dramatic impact on a lot of people’s perceptions and directions. I know it did me. He was an extremely inventive, creative and charismatic person, and people wanted to be near that. He should have been impacting many more people than he did, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find out he ended up cutting a pretty wide swath.
4) Three words you would use to describe Gene?
Most people can’t be reduced to three words, most of all Gene. I had some tremendous fun with him – laughing so hard I thought I was going to pee. Gene was no saint and he could make you pretty mad with his schedule, if it can be called that, and his unique version of the truth sometimes. He was the flawed genius who died young.
5) As a friend of yours, how did Gene influence you?
The first thing Gene did to me when I met him was quickly realize how little talent I had. For me he underscored just how special making music was. I wanted him to be as successful as possible, and even volunteered to manage Adam Again for a while, but that went nowhere for a few reasons. That was my reaction to what he had to offer the world. That, and try to be as close to what he had going on as possible.
He definitely had the charisma that you did want to hang out with Gene. Sometimes you couldn’t tell if Gene was trying to be cool, or if he was. He was also a misfit in a genre full of misfits. I remember after Randy Ziegler left Calvary Costa Mesa I tried to get Adam Again on stage there. It was still the place to play and we were pretty entrenched there, so I tried to use some of that influence to get them a gig. The guy running it told me “I don’t see the salt bro”, meaning, I surmised, Adam Again didn’t have enough trite Jesus lingo in their lyrics to pass the litmus test. At that point it was just icing on the cake for me and a lot of people who felt boxed in and blocked out of the Christian establishment. Of course Gene was never going to fit within some sort of Christian establishment, so he created his own world and people came to that place and it influenced people.
So, now guys like Switchfoot and Reliant K and the host of other Christian Alt bands can really thrive and it’s because guys like Gene set a bar 20 years ago for everyone to leap for.
Gene and I both divorced around the same time and lost contact. I got very busy with getting my life on solid footing and wasn’t involved with music much. So, I didn’t hear about Gene’s death until quite awhile afterwards. That’s always bothered me, but it’s likely me just feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t get to say goodbye or reminisce with others. I do wish I had stayed in contact and had a few more good times with Gene.
I think the best lesson to take from Gene’s life is that he epitomized the phrase “God-given talent”, and by showing that talent in the fractured and dysfunctional world of Christian popular music made people make a choice between what artists are expected to do with that talent by humans versus dealing with why God has really given that talent in the first place.
Who can listen to “Who Can Hold Us” and say that Gene’s art doesn’t have salt, brothers?
Dec 31, 1986: Adam Again live with Glenn Holland (4-4-1) on keyboards
Glenn Holland and Gene in Neverland Studios tracking bass circa Spring ’88.
Photos courtesy of Glenn Holland