Live Music: Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers — Making Peace in Indiana

Before the utterly gobsmacked throngs started filing out of the bar to mob him, and before he had a chance to absorb what just happened onstage, Brian David Blush sat on the hood of a stranger’s silver Toyota, massaging his forehead as if it would make the night’s events sink in faster.

He was a bit embarrassed, too, or a lot to hear him tell it. Just three and a half hours earlier, Blush wasn’t even sure he’d be allowed in to see his former Refreshments bandmates — Roger Clyne and Paul “P.H.” Naffah, the head and neck of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers – play at the roadside restaurant just outside Elkhart, Indiana. So to have joined Clyne, Naffah and bassist Nick Scropos on well-loved tune “Nada” from their 1996 breakthrough record, Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, was an event for which he was completely unprepared.

“Whatever you say, tell ‘em I was terrible,” Blush said, rather morosely assessing his first time onstage with Clyne since it all went wrong between them.

This was originally supposed to be a combined review of Clyne and the Peacemakers’ July 2nd performance at both the 30th Annual American Music Festival at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois, and the band’s subsequent performance at Mr. G’s in Osceola, Indiana on July 27th.  Anyone who’s ever seen an RCPM show knows how solid and fun they are, even (especially?) as Clyne tosses back shot after shot of tequila. Well, the band didn’t disappoint either time. Particularly heartening was hearing lead guitarist Jim Dalton come into his own, since 2009 was his first year with the band and he was a bit tentative and stiff with the music. But for Refreshments/RCPM fans, hearing three of the original Refreshments reunited for a short, impromptu jam session in front of the lucky 120 who came to the show is, as Veep Joe Biden might say, “a big f’in deal.”

The backstory’s been told a million times: After Fizzy Fuzzy propelled the Refreshments toward epic stardom, their second album tanked, the band lost its record deal and Blush dove headfirst into his already debilitating heroin and pill habit. He got kicked out of the band, and then he sold the Refreshments’ entire catalog – which includes the theme of long-running show King of the Hill — for $2,500 out of desperation. Bad feelings, naturally, ensued; Blush overdosed, then spent time in jail and went through rehab before landing in jail again and finally getting himself off the junk. He now resides in the South Bend area and plays in various bands.

Which leads the story to July 27th: Blush’s buddy and bandmate, Mike Vance, heard RCPM was playing Mr. G’s and asked Blush if he wanted to go. It’s not that he didn’t, but after more than a decade of anger and resentment, he didn’t know how his presence would be received. Thanks to the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles, he almost didn’t get to find out; now that Indiana mails residents their licenses and other IDs, Blush didn’t have his new license yet, and the bouncer didn’t accept the photocopy the DMV provided.

Defeated, Blush started walking away when he saw Naffah outside the RCPM tour bus. He walked up, and the unexpected happened: Naffah met him with open arms, and the guys took care of his entry issues as only good friends would.

“They snuck me in through the back door,” Blush said.

Blush sat on the left side of the stage, donning shades and smiling the whole time, even firing up a lighter every so often in homage to his favorite songs. Being comfortable in RCPM’s air space was all he needed, really, but then Clyne came out for the encore and called on Blush to accompany him on “Nada.”

He was overwhelmed from start to long after finish. While neither a perfect version of the introspective song or the final encore, no one dared take away from his elation at playing with old friends.

“Roger Clyne and P.H. Naffah, I came up with them. We were lucky enough to catch a break (all those years ago),” he said. “This has to be the greatest moment of my life so far, and I just came here tonight to say ‘Hello.’

“They affected the course of my life, and I will die being a Peacemakers fan.”

The other guys – Clyne, Naffah and in his own way Scropos – also came away healed. Scropos wasn’t in the Refreshments during the troubles, but he knew enough about it to know there was “weird blood.”

“I thought it was really neat,” the bassist said. “Everyone’s really humbled by the experience, and I’m happy for the guys.”

When told that Blush called his own performance “terrible,” Naffah smiled while remembering how self-deprecating his old friend is. He also admitted to being a bit apprehensive at the thought of sharing a stage with him again and was glad it all happened as an impromptu jam, lest everyone be all twitchy about it.

“I haven’t talked to him in years, and nobody knew where he was – the last I heard, he was in Detroit,” Naffah said. “We needed this, though. I wish the guy the best and will jam with him anytime.”

As for Clyne, perhaps the most hurt by Blush’s actions way back when, he was a bit overwhelmed with the moment himself.

“This was the building of a bridge I burned a long time ago,” Clyne said. “Forgiveness is a good thing, and I hope Brian got as much peace out of it as I did.”

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  • Broad

    Hey, Michelle here, and as I wrote this at around 3 a.m. this morning, there are a couple of corrections I need to make: In my frenzy of bleary-eyed factchecking, I completely missed the -h at the end of “Naffah,” who also does NOT smoke. In fact, I do remember now that Brian said he saw P.H. in the bus window, but with the excitement of it all, I confused P.H. with someone else we saw smoking in front of the bus.

    I apologize for the errors.

  • Matt

    Michelle – I took care of the errors for you :-) Email me at mattwardlawATgmailDOTcom if you have any further edits that you want to make! I really enjoyed this review!

  • Broad

    Thanks, man!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1224160193 Scott Banham

    Great story!
    Thanks. As a huge Refreshments and RCPM fan, I was thrilled to hear the details of the events and the fact there was some real healing happening. What a thrill. Thanks to Matt for passing this along, I'll be sharing as well.

    Scott Banham

  • Broad

    Thank you kindly, sir! There really was no way to describe the excitement in the room when Brian came up, other than amazing. Almost pandemonium-like — people getting on the bar to film it, just … electric, I guess. But the best was talking to the guys afterward; you truly got the sense from Roger and PH that the past can now be in the past, and while they all have their own things going on now, they'd be able to sit down and break bread. And Brian, he was just over-the-MOON. I'm surprised he was able to even talk coherently, he was so moved.

  • Detectivefork

    Gets me choked up. :)

  • Jill

    That was an awesome story!   Thanks for sharing!   What a great example of forgiveness.   Those guys really know how to walk the talk.   One fun fact is that either my husband or I took that Stonehenge photo of the band and if not we were standing next to the person who did!!   Good times!   :)

  • Jbkinkade

    I saw Brian Blush onstage with RCPM this last Saturday in Prescott, AZ. I reconized him and started looking online about stories of a reunion. Looks like it has come full circle