I don’t remember the first time I met Trey.
From 1980 forward, he was around, at least for much of the next decade before I left.
He was in the class ahead of us, with David and Ilyse and Carson and Colin. I knew him from around school, from football, from the yearbook photos, from stories.
While I was awkward, he was abundant, kind and funny, almost a good ole boy as they would say, without the ugly connotations. He was popular without being full of it.
Just a friendly soul, comfortable in his shoes. He’d always been around. Over the next few years, we all got caught up in things.
Between football and music, there was something zeitgeisty about him. He sang, played guitar, played lineman (i think). Not a glamorous position as a quarterback or running back, although he had quarterback, leading man looks, a Romeo, with a punk rock air.
Along the way, he played and laughed, and groaned and managed, even on the hottest days of practice, twice a day the last two weeks in August, laughing as much as we could, and shrugging it off, when we lost.
When I was in 7th grade, I joined him on the 8th grade team. He never said a word when I screwed up, just lots of encouragement and support, as a teammate. Over the years, I admired him from afar, a charismatic character, with more and more piercings, a new haircut every week.
Carson and I talked about him in carpool in 9th grade, smoking cigarettes, speculating about girlfriends, romance, what music was working for us, between Alphaville and the Jam, who was in, who was out, listening to tunes, very funny and illuminating. The chatting and playing only continued through those years, at dances, on Friday nights after games, through different girlfriends, thousands of parties, bumps on the road, intrigue, etc.
For much of my time at Greenhill, the varsity football team was terrible. Then, something happened in fall of 1984. We started winning, a lot, only losing to Trinity Valley, the last game of the season and the conference championship the next week. Those losses became sources of lore. All we had to do was say, Valley, and everyone became serious, even at a party. And there were lots of them, especially after my knee went out before the first game of the next season. And I couldn't play. Trey's friends came by a lot, Ed and Colin and Teddy, showing a little solidarity amidst the ruins of the fall after my family seemingly dissolved. I came back toward the end of the season. Trinity Valley was our last game again. Sitting to get ready for the game in the locker room, the coaches usually gave us a pep talk, with some screaming. Fall of 1985, all was quiet. The coaches turned out the lights and put on a video of the highlight reel of the last game of the previous season, when we lost, on a drive in the last play of the season. The film was edited to the soundtrack of “The End” by the Doors, high drama. Instead of Apocalypse Now, it was high school football.
“This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes, again
This is the End”
The song was about the game. But it was also about our lives, changing, youth ending.
Something else taking shape.
None of us were quite sure what.
No one thought we’d do much the next year. The class of 1986 was thought to be the best in school history, at least at football. But Colin ran, with the help of a stellar offensive line, including this blogger. We won more than we lost, finishing the season 7-3, losing only one more game than the previous two seasons, when we lost the last two. Colin, the eventual singer in his band, set records. And we nearly prevailed. And stumbled, our last game, Trey’s senior year, getting demolished by St Marks. Their receivers were just too much for our defensive backs. After the game, I found myself sitting with Trey on the bus on the way home from the game. A knowing glance, a shrug, commiserating. We talked, crying on each other's shoulders, looking out at the Dallas night. It was over, football was. So was caring and caring a lot about growing up and leaving childhood goodbye. Trey knew it more than most. He’s been approached by the coaches and singled out because of alleged drug use. The innocence of it was over. None of that was very fun. Something was passing.
The school burned down a few months later. I remember him talking about it on TV. I’ve been here since I was a kid, he told reporters, looking at the ashes.
The world was transforming.
He adapted, with a shrug. We all did.
Some time in the fall, Trey’s band, SPAM, played at school, with Colin, our running back on vocals, Teddy, who’d just come to Greenhill on drums, and Allan, who we played with in grade school until he transferred to St Marks. There was play, but there was also poetry to it. Then, they played at the Theater Gallery. Everyone was there. And they kept going. Show after show, developing a following.
Dallas had long had a vibrant musical history. Deep Ellum, where the Deep Ellum Blues were born, was usually our location. But there were other venues, Trax where the Dead Kennedys had played in 1983. The New Bohemians were playing shows at Poor David’s Pub and anywhere else they were welcome. Greenhill allum Gavin Fight’s band, the Devices, the first punk band I'd actually known of, released “Heroes de Plastico” in 1981. He used to go to football games of the Hornets. Downtown was full of music venues, for new bands. They charged almost nothing for shows. Trey’s band was a welcome addition. Each show the music evolved, from covers of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, a song we’d sung together on the way home from football games, to the monumental, prog rock, “The Call.” “And everything has turned to gray and slowly my smile began to fade,” sang Colin. Trey looked cool, his hair flipping from side to side under his bandana. THe sound was monumental. For the next six years, the band gigged around town. I went whenever I could.
All over Dallas,
Listening to their tape, the recordings I played over and over.
There were thousands of parties and conversations with Trey and company, smoking and chatting and music and friends, from one house, learning about everyone’s lives, one gig to the next, always a part of our lives.
In 1991, “Hormel Foods sued our little band for infringing upon their famous trademark,” wrote Allan on facebook. “I really wish I could dig up copies of the 2 days of depositions they took us thru at Jones Day trying to prove that we made money off their trademark. I'm pretty sure they found out we were about $40K-$60K in the hole over 6-7 years.”
After leaving Texas, I’d see Trey at parties and reunions and such, here or there. And he was always kind.
It had been years.
And then there was the news on Monday night, something had happened.
“Too soon, Buddy. One of my first friends in 7th grade. RIP,” Colin posted with a black and white photo of himself, singing by Trey on guitar.
Did something happen to Trey, not Trey.
Yes, said Colin.
“Last texts we had, like ten days ago,” Caron told me, in a late night message, she said I could post here. “I told him I just finished re-reading Siddhartha and he should, too. He texted back two days later, said he finished, wow, and “just curious, what inspired you to read it again?” We agreed it hits dif at 53 than at 17. That was a week ago today. I think Siddhartha was the last thing he read. Kind of beautiful.., I’m tripping.”
A beautiful symmetry.... Such a poet. I'm sorry we didn't talk more. I’m glad to know the bits I knew of him...lots of beautiful overlaps...lots... Lots of bits of memories or music.
And it all came back. The years and years of shows... with Trey on guitar at that Twilight room show from 1986, a smile, a humble greeting, hot summers, football, losing, winning, music, talk about growing up, getting to know someone I admired from afar, as music changed and we changed, went in our respective directions, to Austin or Claremont, Denton or back, read books, had families, and watched .. lived... and had to say goodbye... too soon… fallen punk rock, honkey tonk…romeo.
Oh Trey Johnson ... such a kind person... I loved playing football and seeing you on spring break watching Desperately Seeking Susan, your greeting, your smile, the SPAM shows and the talking about growing up and drug use… and winning and losing and being friends and music and finding something and looking out for the magic and being curious and kind in this world.
For a lot of us, he was a best friend.
For others a dad, or a musical partner, or a comrade.
A Peter Pan
It's hard to to say goodbye to Trey.
I still have that old SPAM tape.
Listening to it.
Show after show, all of us there, through time.
So many shows.
Thanks for that Trey.
Gonna miss you.
Sorry it was so soon.