Storm death leaves a hole in heart of New London's music community
New London — In the decades he spent as a taxi driver with Harry’s Livery, the late Arthur “Art” Falconi overcame some not-so-desirable situations.
Before he worked his way up to driving the “medical cab” — or the one that generally carts folks back and forth from various medical appointments — he encountered rough subjects on the nighttime taxi shift.
And in all stages of his career, he toughed out all kinds of horrific weather conditions.
“He was a great driver,” said Don Cash, a local musician and longtime friend of Falconi’s. “It’s ironic he was killed just sitting in a driveway.”
Friends of the 65-year-old on Thursday struggled with the suddenness of his death Wednesday. One moment Falconi was picking up a client from a small apartment building at 185 Pequot Ave. The next, a tree uprooted by a storm that brought at least one 95 mph wind gust was on top of his Lincoln Town Car.
Falconi’s backseat passenger escaped relatively unscathed — at least physically. Falconi, however, was pronounced deceased at the scene.
“I’m still kind of numb over the whole thing,” said Ken Atkins, who also drives for Harry’s. “I just can’t believe it.”
Atkins, who fronts the Ken Atkins and The Honky Tonk Kind band, said he had known Falconi for about 20 years. Like Atkins, Falconi was a musician — he played drums over the years for more bands than can be counted on two hands, including Atkins’ band.
From the cab to the stage, Falconi was consistent, Atkins said. He showed up to work when he said he would. He went above and beyond for clients with extra needs. And he could pull off a song on stage flawlessly — even if he hadn’t practiced it before.
But more than that, he was empathetic. He was as likely to deliver a witty one-liner as he was to offer little-known facts about a given musician. Often spotted around town in a tie-dye T-shirt, he was a free spirit. Known for annual birthday bashes he hosted at his place off Ocean Avenue in New London, he was a uniter.
And now that he’s gone, there’s a hole in the heart of the music community, near and far.
“I’m really going to miss finishing a gig with him,” said Lorain Ohio Simister, singer for the band Post Traumatic Jazz Disorder. The group had taken a break of sorts this summer as life got busy but had plans in the coming weeks to meet back up for practice.
“I’m going to miss him grabbing me and saying, 'Man, you really, really gave everything tonight,'” she said, pointing out that many drummers don’t pay much mind to vocals. “That meant everything to me.”
Simister met Falconi through her daughters, who had met him while he was on duty with Harry’s. She quickly found herself at one of his parties, too, with her daughters urging her to jump onstage.
“I’ve never played with a tighter band in my life,” she said of the experience. “It was like three weeks later that we had a band. Just, bang. Artie called and said, ‘Hey, we need a singer.’ I said, ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’”
They played under several names with varying frequency over the years but always stayed in touch.
Simister remembers one year at his party when tents he had set up split open under a deluge of rain, leaving a piano exposed to the elements.
“Everybody just grabbed stuff and brought it into the house,” Simister said, smiling at the memory. “Then we sat in there like idiots and sang songs from Sesame Street. A bunch of musicians together is like a bunch of kids together.”
When some of her percussion equipment was stolen from her car, it was Falconi who called to ask what was missing. Then he replaced all of it.
She still has that equipment, she said — it’s her favorite.
"He was a sweet, cuddly, fun, wonderful human," said Simister, who has been keeping in touch with Falconi's longtime partner, Kathy Vega.
“I’m trying to look at this as though it had to happen for a reason,” she said. “Maybe all of us were drifting apart and needed to be put back together again.”
Cash also is reeling from the loss. A guitarist and songwriter, he has been playing music with Falconi “pretty much nonstop” for 40 years.
Once, two brawling men barreled nearly through their set at an Old Lyme bar, a woman chasing after the men. Another time, an orange cat of Cash’s curled up inside Falconi's bass drum as he was setting up, unbeknownst to Falconi.
“You know where this is going, right?” Cash asked with a laugh.
Falconi later mashed the pedal for the drum. An orange streak flew from it “like a cannon.”
Cash challenged Falconi as they worked to compose songs and found Falconi was equally adept at rock, blues, jazz, fusion and country music. Falconi, meanwhile, successfully taught Cash new digital technology as it came along, which is no easy feat, to hear Cash tell it.
The duo’s main gig was Mars Slingshot, but they have shared the stage in cover bands and otherwise, too.
“We’re like musical soul mates,” Cash said, detailing a time that he and Falconi, apart from each other, came up with a song and a drum beat, respectively.
“Lo and behold the two things went together perfectly,” he said. “We’ve had this synchronicity for years.”
A diehard Grateful Dead fan, Falconi was devastated when Jerry Garcia died in 1995, Cash said.
“I called him right away,” Cash said. “He was really upset, he was saying, ‘What am I gonna do with my life?’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to keep playing.’”
“That’s how I feel right now,” Cash continued. “I’ve just got to keep playing.”
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