I saw my first show at a club in 1993, at the venerable Local 506, on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. The venue is still there, nestled snugly between two Indian restaurants. Now I typically go to see a band there every couple of years or so. At that initial show, I saw Polvo, with the classic lineup of Ash Bowie, Dave Brylawski, Steve Popson and Eddie Watkins. My first rock show was supposed to be seeing Mudhoney the previous year, at the 9:30 Club in DC, where my cousin worked. However, my dad strongly objected to me going to what he just thought of as a bar to see a grunge band. He was intransigent on the subject, and it was out of my hands. I had to wait a bit longer to experience eardrum pounding indie rock in the dark confines of a club.
Polvo was brilliant and raw that night, and left me with a taste for more live music. Polvo remained on of my favorite bands through the 90’s (I also love their more recent records), though drummer Eddie Watkins left the group after the 1996 Exploded Drawing double-LP. That record is considered by many to be the best math rock album ever made. Exploded Drawing effectively showcased the many different sides of Polvo, from the Eastern influences, to the strange time signatures and unpredictable song structures in an almost grinding journey through the essence of the band. It was certainly a fitting last act with the group for an unusually gifted drummer.
Fast forward 23 years, to 2016, and I found myself employed in the same office with Watkins. I never even knew I was working with one of my favorite drummers. I’m not sure why I didn't make the connection, since I should have recognized him and he was in a fairly senior role, so I heard his name around. To be fair, we did work on separate products and in different parts of the organization. I didn’t realize it was the same Eddie Watkins, that is, until I came into work one Monday morning and read an email about his death. I was frozen by the news. The cause of death was not specified, which usually means one of only a few options. What I found out independently confirmed my suspicions that Eddie had taken his own life. His family had wanted to keep it quiet initially, but by the following year had started Eddiefest, an event held at the Cat’s Cradle club, featuring a host of local bands. The third such event was just held.
In honor of late drummer, friend, son, brother and father Eddie Watkins, his family created EddieFest, the first in 2017.
A benefit to bring awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.
I’m glad to see the family taking the opportunity to memorialize Eddie in a way that contributes to the cause of preventing such tragedies.
The Movember Foundation started in 2003 with a mission to improve men’s health and focused on male-specific cancers. The method the charity used was to enlist men to grow mustaches (which had fallen out of favor) in the month of November. The gimmick gave men participating the chance to explain the cause to those asking about the new whiskers. What began as a simple but clever idea has expanded over time. In recent years, they have increased their mission to feature a significant focus on men’s mental health and suicide prevention.
A recent post from the foundation cites research that shows ongoing perceived stigma around talking about mental health at work. 75% of suicides in the US are committed by men. One has to wonder, if it were easier to talk about these issues at work, would we be losing less men in this way? In the wake of Eddie’s suicide, a number of leaders wondered if they had missed signs. What could we have done differently?
I don't have easy answers to the questions about why choose to end their own lives at such a high rate, but I have been participating in Movember for the last few years to try and raise money and awareness about the problem. I’m hoping that bringing this topic out in the open is a good first step.
Image of Polvo, without Eddie on drums, by Edward on Flickr