In Memory of My Friend Todd Emery
I lost a friend this weekend who was a key part of my life, let alone my musical life. This is a tribute to him.
Note: I don’t mean to be crass or morbid, but I want you to know that my friend Todd struggled with alcohol. He drank too much. He ultimately died of a pulmonary embolism and couldn’t be revived. I only say it so bluntly so that you can stop wondering and focus on Todd Emery, the person, and the life without the distraction of any mystery surrounding his departure. 1 Like almost everyone else, Todd wasn’t defined by his struggles.
I remember the day I met Todd Emery. Like so many other moments in my life, it is marked by a rock show. I stood in line alone at the Grog Shop in Coventry, waiting to get in. I couldn’t have been more excited to see Coheed and Cambria, Onelinedrawing, Hopesfall, and Codeseven. Now that I type that, that’s a lot of band names where taking out the spaces between words was the naming convention. But, shocker, I was by myself. I must have been feeling outgoing that day, because I get to talking to the people waiting with me in line, and slowly but surely, I had had a Step Brothers “did we just become best friends?” moment. Todd was a physically large guy who was otherwise understated and friendly. He was a music dude - not overly “scene,” though - with bright red hair and the easiest-going attitude you've ever experienced.
We had all these favorite bands in common, including Death Cab for Cutie, Pedro the Lion, and the one that pushed it over the edge, Mineral. I also told Todd I was learning to play guitar and started writing songs. It turns out Todd played the guitar too. We exchanged numbers, which is not something I did. He actually called me to hang out, which shocked me because at that time in my life I didn’t feel like I deserved friends, really. I’ve talked about who I was in my quarter-life crisis and how self-destructive I was. I only mention it again to tell you about who Todd was, that he followed through and wanted to hang. Soon enough, Todd came over, and we jangled some guitar sounds together, and we were officially friends.
We played songs at open mic nights. We hung out at The Barking Spider near where he worked at the Cleveland Institute of Art. We started writing songs together. The details get sketchy on timing, but eventually, he moved into my house and became my roommate. We started a band called The Company Line, and I believe that was one of Todd’s name suggestions.
With The Company Line, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of being in a band. Todd and I had both played music with bands before, but this was the only working band I had ever played in. Todd and I had incredible chemistry working together. I wrote most of the song ideas because my guitar playing is limited, and I was too nervous to try and write vocals and words to other people’s stuff. As an aside, we never played conventional covers or this very reason. I never knew if the songs were any good until Todd wrote his parts. And some of them weren’t even close to good until he put his stamp on them. He took my chunky, plain, chord-driven songs and made them far more interesting, complex, and frankly, sound more like indie rock, which we both wanted.
Todd and I both had impostor syndrome. We both knew that we weren’t ever going to be cool rock stars or even interesting indie-rockers. We were the only band that played regularly where neither of us got a girl’s phone number, let alone brought them back to our house to hook up. Neither one of us felt like we were phenomenal guitarists. Neither of us felt like we were incredible at anything musically, but every time we played a show, we realized that we were hard workers and very professional. No matter how good or bad the bands were that we shared the stage with, we were always well-rehearsed. We took a lot of pride in that. Not everyone can be Death Cab for Cutie, but we can all be prepared for gigs.
So rather than striking rock star poses and thinking we were god’s gift and that we should be desirable because of our band, we would play our asses off, slink off into a corner and watch the rest of the bands.
Todd and I played my favorite rock clubs on earth, The Grog Shop, The Beachland Ballroom, and the Tavern, and Pat’s In the Flats. We played Peabody’s and every damn stage over at West 117th, including the gig where you had to load in gear all the way up what felt like 117 flights of stairs. (If you know. You know.) We made great friends in the local music scene, who are some of my best friends in the world to this day.
Todd and I traveled to see our favorite bands. He and I were in Detroit at The Magic Stick in 2002 for Iron and Wine, where it was spitting rain while we waited to get in as a couple of homeless guys tried to stab each other with a broken bottle across the street. We were in Pittsburgh in October 2003 to see Death Cab for Cutie. It was the only time I ever got to hear the band play “Bend to Squares” live, and Todd knew how much of a big deal that was to me as I glowed behind the wheel driving back to Cleveland in the middle of the night. I’m going out of order, but Todd rode along with me to Chicago to see Ben Gibbard play a solo acoustic set at Schubas Tavern in August of 2003, which is a whole other story that I’ll tell you right now.
Make no mistake, I wanted to go to that show desperately, but my primary motive was wanting an excuse to go stay with the woman who would one day become my wife. I bought those tickets. My future wife went to the show with Todd and me. Todd was my wingman throughout that entire trip. And I said future wife, so you know how that one worked out.
We were so close then that we couldn’t be embarrassed in front of each other. I remember driving across Indiana on the way back to Cleveland from Chicago when “New Year’s Project” by Further Seems Forever came on. We somehow decided to go for it, and both sang the Chris Carrabba high-note chorus at the top of our lungs together.
I'm waiting to give you whatever the world may bring
I'd give you my life
cause I don't own anything.
It seemed like the bottom was all that I had until now
I'd give you my life
if you'd give me yours somehow.
You know, just a couple of gentlemen being emo together on a road trip.
When I tell you Todd was funny, you might wonder if I’m throwing that in, but I’m not. Todd had many different laughs, but when you truly cracked him up, he would explode into a cackle that made you feel like the funniest person on earth. Other times, you’d be trading jokes about any old topic, and without skipping a beat, Todd would straight-face toss out something so three levels deep compared to the low-hanging fruit that everyone else was grabbing. Sometimes, it would just stop the conversation while you caught up to Todd and figured out how funny he had just been.
I wrote about EndSerenading by Mineral on this site before and talked about the show I went to in 2014. What I didn’t mention in that post was that my buddy Todd was standing next to me at that show, likely feeling all the feelings and emotions that I was that night. By that point, we weren’t really an active band anymore. We were both married with familial obligations, but that night we were both transported in a time machine thanks to Mineral.
Todd and I shared many struggles with both alcohol and food. We abused both together during our tenure as roommates to the detriment of us both. Obviously, Todd’s struggles were on another level from my own, but at one point, Todd and I had both come out on the other side. The lonely, alcoholic fat guys were addicted to running. We were both married with solid careers. I was there when Todd and his wife ran their first half marathon. I hired his wife, Lindsey, to work at my family’s company, further entwining our lives.
Todd and I created music together. We shared unforgettable concert moments watching some of our favorite bands. We had triumphs like big gigs that we’ll never forget and also survived some of the most frustrating moments, like getting stuck in the front window of a bar instead of getting to play on the main stage. We did it together as bandmates, roommates, travel mates, and friends.
Todd was a true original. People always say that about others, but I mean it with Todd. He was full of empathy and more than willing to put himself last in many situations but not in a pathetic way. He had a sense of ethics that drove him and made him trustworthy. I never worried about telling Todd about my life or my innermost issues or anxieties.
I could go on forever, but I’ll leave it there. I won’t try and pretend to be able to convey what Todd meant as a husband and a father, because that’s someone else’s story to tell. I won’t talk about Red Dog’s importance to his friends from childhood in Oil City, PA - The O.C. but know that my occasional glimpses into that world as his friend didn’t shock me with how loved he was.
Todd was an important person in many people’s lives. I know that I don’t top the list, but Todd was an important person to me, and I think I was important to him.
I hope you have some peace, brother. Here’s us performing a song from our old band together.
We’ve all seen those really vague social media obituaries where nobody will tell you how someone passed away. I’m not judging, but I’m acknowledging that I know how distracting it all can be.