As a lifelong proponent of waking no earlier than 10 a.m., I’ve realized that a phone call or text at 8 a.m. is never a good sign. And, last Thursday, I was reminded of this theory when my friend Viktor texted to inform me that another friend, Anthony Guarino, had passed away.
I knew Anthony as the drummer of The Heathens (a band we founded with guitarist Al “Alfunction” James and singer/guitarist Gabe Griffin), but I had known of him for years. Before playing in The Heathens, Griffin and I played in Spitfirevolver, a Jawbreaker-esque trio that no one seemed to like. No one, that is, except for Anthony and his band The Iron-Ons. Spitfirevolver first played with The Iron-Ons at a Costa Mesa art gallery. I can’t remember the year, but it must have been somewhere around 1998 or 1999. When I say we played to four people that night, I mean four people: my then-girlfriend Jennifer and the three members of The Iron-Ons.
I was nervous that evening because I had been a bass player for such a short amount of time that I had yet to purchase an amp and a head. Then, I became more nervous when I noticed Anthony, who was wearing a jacket with a Descendents logo on it. If you’ve heard any Descendents music, you know the band’s three bass players (Tony Lombardo, Doug Carrion and Karl Alvarez) can play. And, if you’re an underage, recent guitarist-turned-bassist playing with a well-known local group that’s into the Descendents, you know you aren’t allowed to suck.
My performance must have passed the test because, years later, Anthony and I would play together in The Heathens. Instantly, as a rhythm section, we clicked. My goal as The Heathens’ bass player was to combine the melody of Lombardo/Carrion/Alvarez, the ferocity of Dee Dee Ramone and the groove of The Stooges’ Dave Alexander. And, naturally, I would do this using all downstrokes. Perhaps you’ve heard that punk musicians can’t play their instruments, but this is wrong. I knew this and the first time I played with Anthony, I knew he knew it, too.
To say that every drummer is unique is a cliché. Of course every drummer is unique, but Anthony truly was and if there’s one thing I’ll never forget about him, it’s that no one played drums like Anthony Guarino. NO ONE. His right hand, the one that transforms a boring, sloppy punk band into something special, was unlike any I’d ever play with (or since). Anthony’s performances always popped. Even during a spastic, downstroke-until-you-die part of a song, Anthony grooved. He wasn’t (as musicians say) “in the pocket.” He was the pocket.
Whether it was his playing in Corrupted Ideals, Violent Outrage, The Iron-Ons, Final Conflict, Dodge Dart or The Heathens (and probably a bunch more), Anthony’s feel for punk was his musical forte. Simply put, the guy played energetic, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll as easily as he breathed. I was in constant awe of his playing and the way in which he understood music. I never told him that I would downstroke all of the songs and he never said he would play eighth notes on the high-hat. It just happened, as if we heard Griffin’s songs and knew they had to be funneled through a Ramones, Black Flag, Descendents and Dangerhouse Records perspective.
Anthony and I played together for approximately two years, but I have so many memories of being his bass player. I’m not joking when I say I could write thousands of words on our time together, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll say this: The original batch of Heathens material was maybe 10 songs and of those 10, I had written only one complete tune. As the band grew, my song slowly became eliminated from the set, but not because of Anthony. Often, he told me that was his favorite song to play and every time we ended our set, he would say something like, “What about ‘Left for Dead?’” Anthony championed my song and pushed the group to learn more of my material. His belief in me—a guy who lacked self-confidence as a bassist, songwriter and as a person—was something I’ll never forget.
You know how people regret the things they didn’t say to people who have passed? Yeah, well, I don’t have those regrets with Anthony. Even after he left The Heathens, we stayed in touch and I’m not exaggerating when I say every conversation always included us discussing how much we loved playing with each other. That was Anthony—open, honest, friendly, encouraging, helpful and joyous. After The Heathens, Anthony worked as a college instructor (and at Caltech) and I’m not surprised that his Rate My Professors reviews say things such as “Really great professor! Loves what he does from what i can tell and definitely knows his stuff. Helps you out alotand is super chill guy,” “He is by far the best teacher I have had EVER! Not only does he love his field of study, he actually cares and wants you to do well” and “This guy actually teaches how to learn.”
I’m going to miss Anthony the drummer and, more importantly, Anthony the friend. I don’t know if there’s a heaven, but I can tell you this: If there is, the Ramones are playing and Anthony is bopping and bouncing right in front of Joey with a smile on his face. And when I get to the big show in the sky and hear Dee Dee count off every song with “1, 2, 3, 4,” I know Anthony will be saving me a spot in the front row. Until then, I’ll keep looking at a picture I have taken during our initial introduction in Costa Mesa. I’m holding my bass in front of Anthony, arms extended like I’m in KISS and we’re playing a sold-out show at Staples Center. And, of course, Anthony is looking at me, smiling.