Rock of Ages

So they're a little bit older and a lot less bolder: The Reason re-unites for one more show.

May 26, 2004|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

In that golden time before graduations, before they were supporting mortgages and children, before receding hairlines and weekends at Home Depot, there was The Reason. And The Reason brought its high-energy music to local clubs and parties, to protest rallies and to the famed Marble Bar, a grungy but happening spot in Baltimore's old Congress Hotel.

Offering a mixture of stirring originals, covers of Elvis Costello, the Beatles and Graham Parker, and virtually no ballads, The Reason was "the best Prog garage band ever to come out of Baltimore - perhaps the only one," according to fan and former literary bohemian David Beaudouin.

When a reunion concert was proposed, the band's five original members hadn't performed together since the days of Three Mile Island. It was time to test the waters of rock 'n' roll once again.

The venue: Levering Hall at the Johns Hopkins University. A slot as one of four student bands of the 1970s invited to perform a special college reunion gig last month. The audience: families, friends, classmates, fans from way back when, various sentimental baby boomers. The reason: Playing rock 'n' roll together, even after 25 years, is one of life's greatest pleasures.

"The Reason was pretty much a 1979, 1980 phenomenon," vocalist Tom Chalkley recalled. "I remember Ronald Reagan getting elected, John Lennon getting assassinated and my band breaking up all at the same time."

The years after led to very different gigs: Rhythm guitarist Craig Hankin directs the undergraduate visual arts program at Hopkins. Vocalist, harmonica player and front man Chalkley is a local freelance writer, illustrator and teacher of cartooning. Drummer John Ebersberger is an artist and teacher at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. Lead guitarist Craig Gendler works as a criminal defense attorney in Owings Mills. Bass guitarist J.D. Considine is a freelance writer and pop music critic (formerly for The Sun) in Toronto.

The boys are now entering an alternate reality where "progressives" mean a kind of eyewear.

But the flame of rock 'n' roll is still alive.

`Beautiful chaos'

At the last big rehearsal before the show, rhythm guitarist and "unofficial leader" Craig Hankin brimmed with news about another former rock 'n' roller performing at Hopkins' Reunion/Homecoming weekend.

"Did you hear? Jimmy Owens is a grandfather. He's the first grandfather," he told his fellow band members as they pulled their cars into his suburban driveway.

This was a strange, but good, thing. It was reassuring to acknowledge the fruits of the years since their last concert while trying to make up for lost musical time. With the exception of Toronto-based bass player Considine, the members of The Reason had been rehearsing every Sunday for six weeks. They practiced in Hankin's sound-proofed basement studio, a space usually ruled by his 16-year-old son.

In honor of the occasion, Hankin had taped a New Yorker cartoon to the wall: The lead singer of a band of middle-aged rockers addresses the audience: "This next one is a hard-rocking, take-no-prisoners-tune we wrote about turning 60."

Of course, that wasn't this group, not yet. Four of the five are in their late 40s. But they still needed time to process some of the technological advances since their last concert. And Considine, the closest thing to a techie in their group, wasn't there to guide them.

"It took me weeks to figure where to plug [my guitar] in," Hankin said as they got ready to rehearse.

"There are too many holes," Gendler said. "Hope I figure out what all those knobs are by Friday night."

Nevertheless, as someone pointed out, solving such mysteries sure beat digging in the garden or looking at paint samples.

"The greatest single invention since we played was the invention of these little chromatic tuner boxes so we don't have to tune out loud in front of a crowd anymore," Hankin said.

"Is that what we used to do by ear?" Gendler asked.

"Yeah."

"That's why we were never in tune," suggested drummer Ebersberger.

As The Reason's front man, Chalkley was thinking of other matters, like mapping out performance strategies and disclaimers. This would be the first time that his wife of 16 years would watch him perform - "my entire acquaintance with Ruth was post-1980" - and the band was playing "Jackie," a song Chalkley and Hankin wrote about Chalkley's "humongous junior high school crush" on girl named Jackie Rosen.

"I did a Google search for Jackie once," Ebersberger said.

"There were probably a lot of Jackies," Chalkley said. "She's probably married, has a different last name now."

So much for Jackie, but what about the band's name? Why The Reason?

"We were listening to a tape of the band and either John or I was explaining something and saying `The reason is ... ' and we cut the tape off and said at the same time, `That's it!'" Chalkley said.

"It was the era of one-word-name bands," Ebersberger added.

"Our softball team was The Sandinistas because we're all left-handed," Chalkley said.

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