I knew leaving the band would hurt one of my closest friends. That didn’t stop me.
It was the early 1980s, and Boston’s rock scene boiled with energy. Bands could be born over a late-night round of drinks, and live-music clubs were almost as common as Starbucks are today. People had begun to talk about Adventure Set, a group I cofounded in a Brookline Avenue rehearsal room with the ambience of a jail cell. By our fourth performance — at the now razed Rathskellar in Kenmore Square — the crowd was shoulder to shoulder, pressed hard against the stage. The Globe published a review describing Adventure Set as a “high-tech dance band” whose songs took “a jaded view of our consumer-hungry society.” I liked the jaded part. Above the headline, there was a picture of singer Ken Scales, one of the three bandmates I was soon to desert.
Musical collaborations truly are rickety contraptions. Egos, visions, and sharpened personalities conspire to create a swirl of disharmony. In the case of Adventure Set, it was an outside influence that caused the damage. Ministry, a Chicago band freshly signed to a record deal, asked me to join as a keyboard player. Making a living as a musician was something I had wanted since slicing the shrink wrap on my first Beatles album. I knew this would be my best chance. After a few fitful days spent sorting pros and cons, off I went. Saying goodbye to Adventure Set was like breaking off an engagement in triplicate. Ken took it the hardest.
Ministry toured the United States in the summer of 1983. Home was a silver and maroon bus that racked up thousands of miles. Remember the scene in Almost Famous where everyone breaks into a joyous, ragged version of “Tiny Dancer”? It wasn’t anything like that. A final, listless set at the Hollywood Palladium signaled the end of my “rock star” tenure. I returned to Massachusetts and took a job at a weekly newspaper. Adventure Set carried on without me, its success never quite spilling beyond Boston.
Then one day a quarter century later, Ken called. Let’s resurrect the band as a duo, he said, “before we get too old.” I took his invitation as an absolution. Over the next 15 months, I wrote a pile of songs. Ken’s voice and spirit made every one of them better. We rehearsed in my kitchen, making it easy to justify long lunch breaks and meandering conversations that were as much about the present and future as the past.
In the four years since we reconnected, there has been a single and an EP, radio interviews, and live shows. It’s been a money-losing operation, of course, but the return on investment has nonetheless been generous: I have a friend back. Actually, Ken is closer to being a family member. We open the good wine when he visits my home in Plymouth, and the dog greets him with the enthusiasm usually reserved for his owners.
If you’ve ever tried restarting a long-lapsed friendship, you know it rarely ends up satisfying. Reconnecting on Facebook doesn’t come close to counting. After an initial flurry of excitement, both parties in found-again friendships usually come to the realization they have little left to trade beyond memories.
But even though Ken and I went different ways in the ’80s, music remained a constant in our lives. We’ve relied on it to celebrate, to grieve, to wash away ruined relationships, to escape from the monotony of everyday routines. Neither one of us could imagine life without a soundtrack. Maybe that’s what kept us from becoming strangers.
Mark Pothier is the Globe‘s deputy business editor. Send comments to email@example.com.
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