In 1979 rock legend Neil Young wrote that rock and roll can never die. Local rocker John Falstrom is a living testament to that statement after seeing his almost four-decade-old vinyl album given new life with a fresh remaster.
Currently, Falstrom can be found at Melody Mart in Homewood. As a music teacher, he has been a fixture in the store for more than 20 years and the ultimate authority on all things related to the bass guitar.
Falstrom picked up the bass in 1974 and hasn’t looked back since. By the time he was a freshman in high school he was already in a band named Midnight.
“My goals were small,” Falstrom said. “I just wanted to get into a good band and play one gig because I liked what I heard. I wanted to be a part of the excitement.”
Midnight consisted of four members: Falstrom, Frank Anastos, Dave Hill and Scott Marquart.
After four years of relentlessly practicing four nights a week in Falstrom’s Olympia Fields basement, Midnight self-released the album “Into The Night” in 1977. “We were all 18. All of us.”
But something didn’t sit well about the recording: the sound quality.
“It was disappointing to the whole band.” Falstrom said. He described the sound as “like wearing sunglasses inside. I didn’t like it.”
The less-than-stellar audio quality of their first album didn’t faze Falstrom. He figured the band would keep playing and practicing, and their next album would be ever better.
“We buried it. We moved on,” he said.
Unfortunately, due to the changing music scene, the band broke up in 1980 and there never was a next album for Midnight.
“It broke my heart,” Falstrom said. “If we had another album we could have really done something.”
Ultimately this too would only become a minor setback for the master musician. Falstrom continued to dedicate his life to music, playing in great bands with stellar musicians.
In 1993, he completed “EADG 4,” a landmark instructional book on bass guitar music theory that is still used today, all around the world.
Here’s when things take a turn for the serendipitous.
Fast forward to September 2014. Falstrom posts an innocuous photo of Midnight’s album on a Chicago rock and roll Facebook page. Steve Kraków, writer and illustrator of the “Secret History of Chicago Music” in the Chicago Reader, sees this photo and contacts Falstrom to find out more.
After Kraków’s article in November of 2014, “Into The Night” begins to garner more attention with places like Dangerous Minds and Noisey (Vice’s musical branch). Kraków acts as the intermediary between Falstrom and Drag City, an indie rock label based out of Chicago.
Falstrom has only one thing on his mind when he meets Drag City. Can the album be remastered? Drag City’s response? No problem.
July 17, 2015. Drag City reissues the remastered version of Midnight’s “Into The Night.” Falstrom prepares to listen to the album by turning off all the lights in his basement; the same basement where a group of 18-year-olds had spent countless hours designing and practicing the very songs he was about to listen to from almost 40 years ago, the same basement where only a few months ago he had taken one of the five remaining copies of an abandoned record and blown the dust off of. He sits down, closes his eyes, and he listens.
“That’s our band. That’s our sound,” Falstrom said. “It sounds totally new to me. I heard new things that I never heard before. Now I like it. I’m very proud of it now.”
Midnight lives on in more ways than just the remaster of their record. Frank Anastos is also a Melody Mart instructor – he has taught generations of students how to play the guitar. Falstrom and Anastos regularly perform together in their band, The Big Boppers.
Is the golden age of rock and roll over?
“It might be,” Falstrom said. “It might not. I’m not sure. With the young kids I hope it isn’t. It’s up to the young generation. It’s out of my hands.” Rock and roll is a young man’s game, he conceded. “You’re so free in your life. You have nothing to tie you down.”
So the cycle of rock continues. As an experienced veteran relives one of his greatest achievements with newfound appreciation, maybe somewhere another group of 18-year-olds listens along and is inspired to make their own memories. In this way, rock and roll can never die.
“That’s music. Can you make sounds that people can relate to?” Falstrom asked. A true rock star at heart, Falstrom didn’t get into the music business for fame or fortune.
“The most rewarding part is being able to make a living with what I fell in love with when I was in fourth grade.”
Midnight’s “Into The Night” can be bought at dragcity.com and John Falstrom’s theory textbook for the bass guitar can be bought at eadg4.com.
Photo by Tom Houlihan.