No Time Is a Good Time for Goodbyes
Many of my favorite drummers happen to be female. I don’t know why this is, like, if there’s some genetic makeup that somehow gives women a natural beat-keeping proficiency, or if I just enjoy watching them play more so than some hairy, shirtless, tattooed dude flinging sweat and attitude everywhere. I’ve noticed over the many years I’ve been going to see rock bands play that male drummers, especially the show-offy ones that can really do some convoluted shit, are usually the cockiest assholes in the room. Their playing, while impressive, often has little imagination or nuance. I haven’t observed that as much with the female drummers I’ve seen, who rather tend to infuse more ingenuity and fun and care into their playing. Even when they’re transforming into a near trancelike symbiosis with their instrument I will notice them paying close attention to their bandmates, engaging in that silent communication that always takes place with the best bands underneath all the surface commotion they’re making.
Linda Pitmon. Poni Silver of The Ettes. Torry Castellano of The Donnas. Moe Tucker, obviously. Stephanie Luke of The Coathangers. Kylee Kimbrough of Dasher. These are all unique, immensely talented musicians with their own individual styles and personalities. And most certainly, Sara Romweber is up there close to the very top of my favorite drummers list, too. It saddens me deeply that I’ll never experience the joy of seeing her play again. Or just seeing her, period. If I ever made a list of favorite people, she’d for sure be up there as well.
Sara Romweber died of brain cancer the night of March 4th. Honestly, I hadn’t kept up with her in recent years, and I didn’t even realize she was sick. I knew she hadn’t been playing with her younger brother Dex for the past several years. She was 55 years old. She seemed ageless to me. She’s probably the nicest, kindest and most genuinely approachable musician I’ve ever known. A little quirky (she was a Romweber, after all). Totally adorable. I’ve read numerous tales and testimonials about her over the past two days, posted by grieving friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and her friendly warmth and natural openness is something that everyone has noted. That and her kinetic dexterity on the drums.
She’s the only drummer I’ve ever seen with Dexter, including Flat Duo Jets, that somehow lifted his basic and tattered rockabilly/blues/early rock ‘n’ roll revival rallies into the realm of the transcendent. She demanded a level of tightness and focus from him that I don’t think he’d ever encountered before. Her playing and input and disposition brought a peculiar power to their material, so that the Dex Romweber Duo was so much more than some minimalist roots-rock two-piece. The way they played together, the sibling bond was palpable and intense – sometimes it almost felt like you could see waves of electric-energy light streaming between them. I’m not exaggerating. There was something very special happening, something rarely encountered, when Dex and Sara would rip through a set of songs. Nothing against Dex, but I’d go see them play mostly just to watch her in action, mesmerized. I know a lot of other folks did as well.
Let’s Active were a bit of a magical act for me, as well. Sara was only 17 when joined up with guitarist/vocalist Mitch Easter and bassist Faye Hunter in time for their first show, as opening act for R.E.M., whose debut single, Chronic Town EP and first two albums Easter would famously go on to record and produce. I only saw that original lineup of Let’s Active once, a rather shambolic show at 688 sometime between the release of Afoot and Cypress. They weren’t the most together outfit at that particular gig, but they were a thoroughly charming one, not to mention funny, and a trifle odd-looking to boot. They had a strange but undeniable chemistry. Great songs, too. Let’s Active made a huge impact on me at the time, and I’ve cherished their records ever since. They still sound pretty fresh and unique, if you ask me. Sara only played on the first two (she subsequently formed the significantly harder-rocking Snatches of Pink with Michael Rank), but I’d recommend giving all four of their records a spin, if you can find them.
At some point maybe a dozen years ago, bewildered that it had not already happened, I got in my head that Let’s Active should get back together for a show or two, and began reaching out to the members to gauge their willingness. Encouragingly, all three seemed open to it (in theory at least), though frustratingly not all at the same time. Sara felt like any shows should benefit a charity of some sort (that intrinsic kindness coming to the forefront again), and she was adamant that they all be up to snuff on the old songs (this was obviously meant for Faye, who hadn’t been playing for quite some time by that point). Mitch was down, as long as it was the original trio (of course). Eventually Faye said she’d consider it, but by that time, for whatever reason, Sara seemed to step back or get cold feet. At that point it seemed like I was pushing too hard, so I stopped. And it never happened. Tragically, Faye took her own life in 2013, so that was that. And now Sara has left us. Dammit all.
Sara, I’ll miss your smile, your hugs, your benevolence, your passion, your eccentricity, your crazy hair… I hope you realized how many people admired and cherished you. You brightened the lives of everyone you came in contact with.