Life in the neighborhood

In August 2000 I moved from my native Connecticut to San Diego, but despite the excitement of a new city and adventure, I wasn't exactly happy.

For a time, I lived in a bland one-bedroom in an anonymous apartment complex on the unfashionable eastern end of the drab and strip-mall-cluttered El Cajon Boulevard.

In the first month or so I lived there, someone stole a bunch of my clothes out of the complex laundry room. Soon after, my neighbor's bathtub overflowed and flooded my apartment.

In the grand scheme, these are perhaps minor annoyances, but they only served to exacerbate the severe bout of homesickness I felt for southeastern Connecticut, a place I always dreamt of leaving.

Consequently and therapeutically, I spent a lot of time at record shops, mostly at the now defunct Off the Record, located in the wonderful Hillcrest neighborhood, to which I would later move.

One night, before taking in a movie at the indie theater, I was browsing through the miscellaneous "R" records in the used vinyl section, when I came across a copy of The Reducers' "Let's Go" for two bucks.

Damn, an album by New London's house band wedged in a record bin all the way out west in California; I had to buy it.

I listened to "Let's Go" obsessively in the fall of 2000, especially the brilliant title track - a desperate plea to go "somewhere" and escape. Well, that's what I did, I left.

And not for the first time, and definitely not the last time in my life, music made me feel better.

I thought about all of that on Tuesday when word got around my latest neighborhood - downtown New London - that Reducers bassist Steve Kaika died that morning following a bout with cancer.

It was such a profoundly sad day in downtown. It was especially true for those who knew Steve personally (I didn't), but also for anyone who loves The Reducers and what they represented: musical abandon and dignity in an industry that can grind you into dust.

Appropriately, I spent most of the day in a record shop, The Telegraph on Golden Street. I had brought in some of my Reducers albums, including that old copy of "Let's Go." They were in heavy rotation all afternoon on the store's turntable.

I talked about the band with shop co-owner Rich Martin, a longtime advocate of local music and art, as "Bums I Used To Know" came on the hi-fi. We both keyed in on Kaika's bass-playing on the song and exchanged, as music fans often do, a knowing, "Man, that's good."

Fortunately, people who were mourning Kaika had a place to go on Tuesday, the Dutch Tavern, owned by Reducers singer/guitarist Peter Detmold and his wife Martha Conn.

I had been by around lunchtime to offer Detmold, who had played music with Kaika for nearly 35 years, my condolences, but then returned around 5 p.m.

Peter was sitting at the bar when he called me over to talk about the new album by the jittery, jangley underground rock band the dBs. I reminded Peter that he sold me my dBs albums years ago, when I was teenager and he worked at Mystic Disc. We shared a smile.

The after-work crowd began to arrive and nearly everyone that came in immediately sought out Peter and Martha.

There were people there whose names I don't know, but whose dance moves I recognized from Reducers gigs down the years.

It's unlikely the band will play again and it seemed those in the Dutch that evening were foremost deeply saddened about Kaika's passing, but also lamenting that something that been a part of their lives for three decades is also gone.

People stayed for one more.

My favorite Reducers song is one written and sung by Kaika, the charging "Life in the Neighborhood."

"That's all Steve," Detmold told me.

It's sort of a punk rock take on "Pleasant Valley Sunday," the Gerry Goffin-Carole King song about suburban banality made famous by the Monkees.

It's a great song and Kaika made it easy to picture the cul-de-sac, with gossipy Mrs. Brown talking on the telephone all day and Mr. Johnson with his new boat and new car, obviously trying to keep up with all the unmentioned Joneses.

There's also the crux of the song, where Kaika chimes, "And I really don't care if I make the grade/ 'Cause I really don't care for the games you play."

It's not essential that anyone take any lessons from rock 'n' roll. It's really not important that you do anything but dance to it, or not dance to it, for that matter.

But when I hear Kaika sing that line and then head into the chorus of "Life in the Neighborhood," I feel better about so much.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.

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