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From The DS Vault: On The Passing Of Tony Sly (originally appeared August 2, 2012)

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it […]

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it would be cool to take a look back at some of the posts from our past.

First up is a story from August 2, 2012. My memories of writing it are still very vivid. We’d just had it confirmed the night before that Tony Sly had passed away. I remember messaging Dying Scene’s old head honcho (and still head honcho emeritus) Johnny X that I know we had run a news story about it, but that I wanted to say more about what his death meant. I took a little time to process my initial shock, and sat at my desk in my old office and wrote the following post stream-of-consciousness style.

As humans, we’re social creatures, conditioned by nature to thrive off of connections with others. We like to know that other people share in our emotions, both good and bad. So it’s a weird thing when a public figure dies. In trying to make sense of a public loss, it is not uncommon for people to insert themselves in the tragedy of others, searching for connections where none may really exist. The punk rock community can be a jaded one at times, so we turn a condescending eye toward those who vocally mourn the passing of the Whitney Houstons, the Michael Jacksons and the Dick Clarks of the world. But then we lose one of our own, and somehow it feels different.

The punk community is a finite thing, built on a shared set of experiences and beliefs. It goes without saying that to become more than just a gimmick or a passing voice in the annals of punk rock history, your voice has to be one of honesty and integrity. False celebrity and pretension get snuffed out pretty quickly. Tony Sly’s voice resonated for a lot of reasons.  More than anything, Sly’s voice was genuine. Tony Sly wasn’t one of a kind; like most great punk rock poets, he was one of us.

It seems that there’s a common thread for a lot of people who might be of a certain age (let’s say 33 for argument’s sake) while reading this page. For many of us, it was the Green Days and the Offsprings who ushered us into this punk rock community roughly twenty years ago; it was the No Use For A Names that kept us here. Inspired by the Bad Religions and the Social Distortions who blazed the trail a decade earlier, NUFAN were one of the pillars in the skate punk community that exploded in the early 90s, thanks in no small part to Tony Sly’s unique voice and heartfelt lyrics. To many of us, there are less than a half-dozen voices from that pivotal era of our formative punk rock years whose ability to connect with their listeners via their storytelling abilities continues to resonate and has left a lasting impression: Fat Mike, Joey Cape, Trever Keith, Jim Lindberg, and Tony Sly. That foundation crumbled a little with the all-too-untimely passing of Tony Sly.

While Fat Mike’s voice served to take the piss out of people who took themselves too seriously and Lindberg pointed his middle finger directly at the establishment, Sly (along with his later counterpart Cape) was more introspective, directing a lot of that same vitriol toward the man that reflects in the mirror. Sly expressed fear, doubt and insecurity in ways that were very real and relatable, easily allowing the listener to identify with every word. And yet, I always got the sense that Tony wasn’t looking for that sort of connection; instead that he was writing for himself, using his music as a therapeutic tool, actively trying to process and make sense of what he saw unfolding around him in the world around him.

As he progressed as a songwriter, Sly’s frame of reference seemed to narrow, with lyrics that became more personal release-by-release, dealing less with trying to fit into the bigger picture (as on the bulk of the material on the 1995 NUFAN classic Leche Con Carne) and more on trying to make sense with feelings like disappointment and resignation along with the stagnation and inertia that can creep in to long-term relationships. The two solo albums that closed out Sly’s career were perhaps the two most appropriately-titled albums in recent memory (2010’s Twelve Song Program and 2011’s Sad Bear). The former album tells the tale of a man trying to keep a brave (or at least upbeat) face while coping with emotional turmoil; the latter, while very similar in almost every way, adopts the tone of someone who remains stuck in a persistent rut, yet without some of the tongue-in-cheek optimism of its predecessor.

Like most lasting punk rock voices of his era, he wasn’t about gimmicks or style. Tony Sly wasn’t a bondage-pants-and-pink-mohawk type, nor was he a leather-jacket-and-eyeliner type. From afar, Tony Sly seemed like one of the good guys, but equally as important, he seemed like one of the regular guys. He seemed like someone who used his musical platform to cathartically express a lot of the things that many of us go through, particularly with middle age and growing responsibilities that come with it. As he reminded us, Tony Sly wasn’t our savior. Rather, he was one of us. That’s what makes his untimely passing all the more troubling. It means not just losing a made-up face on a television screen or a studio-created voice capable of belting out words that were written in a pop music laboratory. Instead, it makes our own mortality just a little more real.

“Please remember…it must go on…”

  1. I still remember that terrible day and I remember the DS tribute to Tony. No Use was one of my favorite bands growing up (still is). They were just that little bit under the radar from the bands that were blowing up like Rancid, Green Day, Offspring and Bad Religion, that we felt like they were are own, despite being a coast away from where No Use formed. Still one of my favorite memories is being drunk as shit outside the Paradise in Boston where No Use just killed with a great set. Me and my buddy left after No Use played knowing that the Dance Hall Crashers just couldn’t compete with No Use. It was awesome that we saw Tony and Dave Nassie outside the bar that was next to Paradise. They were busting our balls cuz of our thick Boston accents and sayings. I told Tony, in pure Boston bro form, “Hey Tony, fuckin’ Postcaaahd was f’n pissah kid!”. Baffled, Tony turned to Dave and was like, does that mean he liked it or hated it?!! He was awesome to talk to and genuinely loved interacting with the fans it seemed as much as we loved talking to him and listening to his music. I still miss that band. I heard Fat Mike had some recordings of Tony but that they were so unfinished that he’s not sure he can do anything with them. Too bad. Would love to hear some new stuff for sure. Thanks for posting the tribute DS. And thank you so much for coming back.. I missed your site 😉

    • No Use opened for Dance Hall Crashers? At Paradise? Wow, I don’t remember that. I know I saw them both (separately) but it was always at Middle East downstairs. Actually wait, no, I saw DHC (and Unwritten Law) open for Bad Religion at…Axis? Avalon? Anyway, thanks for checking in! I’m glad we’re back too! We’ll have the kinks worked out soon. I hope.

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Tony Sly

Tony Sly was a singer, songwriter and guitar player. He was best known as frontman for seminal 90s California punk rock band No Use For A Name. He also had a successful career as a solo acoustic troubadour, and appeared as one-quarter of the supergroup Scorpios, alongside John Snodrass, Joey Cape, and Brian Wahlstrom.