The average person must go through decades of experiences, both good and bad, before developing an appreciation of every single day of his life.
But for the young members of Akron retro indie-rock trio Taxidermy Special, it took one long drive on a dark night, a semi-truck and a patch of black ice on Interstate 71 to help them realize how special each day and their friendship are to them.
The two-year-old band — Joe McGee, 22 (drums), Ben Patrick, 21 (bass/guitar/vocals) and Will Cardina, 21 (bass/guitar/vocals) — will celebrate its debut EP Alive and Well with a show at Square Records in Highland Square this evening.
“Alive and well” isn’t simply a catchy name for the recording; it’s also a declaration of the band’s status after a January 2011 car accident that put McGee in intensive care for several weeks.
“Way to kick off the new year, right?” Patrick said during an interview at the Nervous Dog coffee bar in West Akron.
Patrick was driving the band in a gear-packed car back from Mississippi, where McGee had been living with his girlfriend. Little Richard Live in England was playing on the stereo and his buddies were asleep sans seat belts. The weather turned bad south of Cincinnati, and a slow-driving semi with flashing hazard lights suddenly appeared ahead. Patrick, who admits he wasn’t driving smart for the conditions, swerved to avoid the truck but the car hit a patch of black ice and flipped, leaving Cardina slightly injured, and McGee unconscious and in critical condition.
McGee spent nearly two months in an induced coma and when he awoke in the hospital, he was understandably confused.
“I was like, ‘Where the hell am I? What just happened?’ I didn’t even remember Christmas at the time. I [still] don’t remember any of it, thank God,” said McGee, sitting next to Patrick at the cafe’s bar.
McGee suffered a traumatic brain injury and “a ton of broken bones … anything major you can break, I broke it,” including a snapped femur, which Patrick is pretty sure was caused by his bass amp.
Both Patrick and Cardina spent many hours in the hospital room with McGee. And Patrick, who was wracked with guilt about the accident, said he received nothing but support from McGee’s family. Shortly after he awakened and was told what happened, McGee, struggling to speak through a tracheotomy tube, told Patrick not to blame himself.
“I really needed to hear that,” Patrick said.
McGee spent the next several months in physical therapy and rehab, relearning how to do basic quality-of-life activities such as walking and using the bathroom on his own. He says he still suffers from some memory problems, and pain in the bones he broke.
One thing McGee didn’t do during his recovery was play his drums, something he had taken for granted since the eighth grade, when he first picked up sticks.
“My dad [Channel 5 Akron bureau videographer Joe McGee] kept saying, ‘Hey, Joe, why don’t you sit down and play?’ But I was scared, because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it,” McGee said.
On the road to recovery, McGee gave his blessing for Taxidermy Special (the name comes from a previous solo project of Cardina’s) to start gigging again. Patrick’s brother Logan was in the drum chair, but the band kept reminding McGee his old job was waiting for him.
During a Taxidermy Special show at an outdoor festival in Kent last May McGee, still walking with a cane, watched his old band perform. With a buddy whispering encouragement in his ear throughout the set, McGee gathered his courage, sat down and played for the first time in six months.
“I got up there, the song starts and it wasn’t like my conscious mind playing; it was my body, and after, I was exhausted,” he said.
“It was the best feeling. It was wild,” Cardina added.
Soon the band had jumped back into regular gigging and decided to self-record and produce the Alive and Well EP highlighting the trio’s prominent, raw, old-school 1950s rock ’n’ roll influence. (Patrick and Cardina write most of the songs.)
Opening the show will be teenage rockers Extra Spooky, featuring McGee’s stand-in, Logan Patrick.
Now every time the band plays, the musicians say they leave everything they have on the stage, because they realize that any show and any day could be their last.
“Second chances like that don’t come around too often,” Cardina said. “So it’s good to appreciate what we’ve been offered and how we were able to survive, so we might as well make as much out of it as we can as a band.”