Mortality has a cruel mistress.
October 31, 2005.
It’s nearly three in the morning. We are trying to navigate our way through ice and pitch-black desolation in the melancholy landscape of Wyoming. This section of Interstate 80 is treacherous, renowned and violent. She is disturbed and unrelenting, calculating and carnivorous. Her desire is to take you to an early grave, and she makes no bones about it. We are carefully inching our way out west like a slug in the grass just after heavy rain.
I am lying on the bench in the back of our tour van, wishing we had the technology to transport to our destination, and yet I feel safe. We just began this tour a few days ago in Indianapolis, and the tires on our 2000 Ford Econoline have recently been replaced. Tonight’s show was in Boulder, and it was fantastic. Beside the fact that the city is mainly composed of smelly hippies and stoned college students, it was a lovely town. After years of toiling in the underground, this is the first time a band I am in, is part of a proper tour, playing in front of a thousand people or more each night.
The merch count is nearly over and most of us—who are not travelling on a bus—are hanging out in the lobby of the theatre, chatting and joking about the journey, and reminding each other to drive safely so we can make it to the Mormon capital of the world on time. It’s a long and laborious drive; all the snow and ice will add extra hours to our trip. Bayside and Aiden had become pretty close in those early days working with Victory Records. We both shared the same vision for what we wanted to accomplish with regards to releasing records and touring. Smashing out a 10-, 12-, 14-hour drive was merely par for the course. We were up for it. About the only point we differed on was that Aiden dressed up like teenage witches who loved the Misfits and Bayside didn’t.
What we said to each other as we were leaving the venue is still crystal-clear in my mind, like a line in your favorite film you have rewatched, memorized and recited a thousand times. As I was hugging their drummer John, I made sure to joke about their bald tires and that they shouldn’t be doing any racecar driving. Half jokingly he replied, “Naah man, no sweat; we are professionals. See you in Utah!”
I know it’s almost 3 a.m. My Sidekick is ringing, and I glance at the time. I think it odd to be receiving a call so late. I answer, and it’s Chris, the tour manager for Silverstein. He is sobbing uncontrollably, and I can barely make out the words, “Bayside in an accident. John might not make it.”
Panic. Panic, is a real thing.
I wake the other guys who are sleeping and tell our driver to get off at the next exit with a hotel. We need to get off this fucking freeway. A flurry of calls start coming in, emails are flying back and forth. We are about 40 miles ahead of Bayside on I-80, and Tony tells me we should be at the hospital with our brothers. We all agree and double back toward Cheyenne on the unforgiving icy, black road. The entire ride was silent, eerie, religiously cold. We know there is something so terribly wrong, but wanted to stifle our fears until we knew the whole truth. Humans are like that, aren’t they? We get smacked with a highly concentrated dose of reality and still, we walk around in denial, preferring to believe the sky could remain forever blue.
Walking up to the emergency room door, Anthony Raneri, stunned and holding half a cigarette, is staring at me in disbelief at what had happened. We embrace and he fell apart in my arms. “John is dead. Nick has a broken back. I’ve lost my shoes,” he muttered solemnly. His face has a couple of scratches on it, and I am surprised he can stand.
They were driving on the same road, with the same model van and trailer, but with tires that were a lot older and more worn than ours. Their driver never saw the patch of black ice before the van started to spin and all control was lost. The van flipped, and John was thrown from a window and crushed. Nick was also ejected and landed on the merciless concrete, escaping death, but not without a few painfully broken bones in his back.
I can’t believe this is happening. It isn’t. This is a nightmare and any minute I am going to wake up. I know it. I never woke up. The dream was our reality, and that reality was exceedingly grim. We cancelled the next six shows around the Northwest and resumed the tour again in Anaheim, California, about a week later. The empty spot where Bayside was supposed to play remained silent out of respect.
After a couple of weeks of absence, Anthony and Jack met us in Florida and performed the rest of the tour with acoustic guitars. I spent that first few nights watching them play from the side of the stage, weeping. Still to this day, I find it difficult to listen to a Bayside song. Haunting recollections in the voice of Anthony Raneri can transport my head back to those somber days of gut-wrenching grief with one melodic word. If you’re reading this, old friend, I must apologize for no longer holding the ability to enjoy your art. I will always love you; know that I root for you daily.
I think of this experience quite often as the pain of my own mortality creeps up ever so swiftly. Time is rushing by like the savage rapids of the Colorado River and when I am finished writing this, it will be next week. It seems as if only yesterday, I was holding my newborn son in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, trying to stave off exhaustion. He turned three earlier this month, and I wonder what dream I am living in. I remember my stepfather explaining this ugly fact of life one afternoon during my boyhood when I was commenting about how bored I was during my summer vacation. He said, “Son, when you get older, you will never get bored. You wont have enough time for such nonsense.” Truer words have never been spoken.
I reminisce about where I have been and what I have done, ponder how my actions have affected others and strive to repair the damage I inevitably cause from time to time, all while remaining true to my own convictions and working to make the life I want for my family and myself. Our innate sense of right and wrong usually prevails in times of question. Yet I still make mistakes, and I still create pleasure. Similar to most of my fellow primates here on planet Earth, I endeavor to live free and in accordance to the values and compositions I have mapped out for myself over years of intense trial and unconditional error.
Every Halloween, with the capricious and rigid autumn air filling my lungs, I am reminded of why it’s so very important to cherish those around you. To hold them close and give them all the love you can. Our friends and families need to be aware of this love, this devotion. The time we have to share in this life is miniscule. It’s a raindrop in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, or a speck of sand in the Sahara Desert. It can be taken away by a cruel and malevolent strip of cement laid in honor of Dwight Eisenhower, assisted by not replacing our tires as often as we should.
John “Beatz” Holohan, was a friend, a beloved husband, a brother and a fucking fantastic drummer. His memory lives on in the hearts of those he touched; his name lives on in the tattoos we have commemorating his legacy. He will never be forgotten nor will he ever be ignored.
Your pal, William
[Read original statements about the tragedy in our 2005 post.]