A Cult Following? My Dad’s Garage-Rock Band Nailed It

I know all this because my father, Todd Cohen, is the Rising Storm’s bassist. When I was a child, he often spent Saturday afternoons playing along to Beatles or Rolling Stones records on his old upright bass. I knew he had been in a band, but the idea was more legend than reality. When I first saw the group play on a small club tour in 1992, when I was a teenager, there were strangers screaming song titles at my father and his friends. It was a bit of a shock.

It was also a spark. A year later, my father gave me my first guitar, and a decade later I played those same clubs in my own bands. My father had no designs of being a rock star — he still finds the situation bizarre — but his experience as a musician cultivated a particular taste that he passed on to me.

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Tony Thompson, left, and Todd Cohen at Philips Academy in 1964.

Improbably, the Rising Storm keeps carrying on. This fall, Sundazed Records will reissue “Calm Before …” on vinyl — the third such reissue of the album. A documentary about the group is expected in 2018. And as the external forces continue to coalesce, bringing the band back together time and time again, it creates an opportunity beyond just reliving a dream. These men have known one another for most of their lives, in a uniquely complicated dynamic: a band.

“You can have intimacy, but you can enrich intimacy with shared experiences, and we have 52 years of shared experiences around a common theme,” said Richard Weinberg, 67, another of the band’s guitarists.

At Phillips Academy, there were strict curfews. There was hazing. (Charlie Rockwell, the band’s keyboardist, said that as a freshman he was forced to roll an apple up a hill — using only his nose — by the head cheerleader, one George W. Bush. “He was a good guy,” Mr. Rockwell said.) There were no girls. For young men struggling with prep-school expectations, a social hierarchy built on privilege and the explosion of teenage hormones, fitting into a tribe was essential. So the band became a sanctuary. They traded records and secrets and ideas. And music gave them a purpose.

“Rock bands were an important commodity — no dances with girls’ prep schools, which happened a couple times a month, without bands,” Mr. Weinberg said.

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Todd Cohen during soundcheck at the Philips Academy reunion in June.

Credit
Matt Cosby for The New York Times

Their sophomore year, they all lived in the same dorm. They sneaked into rooms in the building to practice but eventually were evicted by the music department since they weren’t an officially sanctioned part of the program. They were known as the Remnants until their senior year, when they changed their name based on a phrase in their American history course.

Their fate hinged on a classmate’s poor grades. “We got a lucky break when one of the singers in the Trolls was put on academic probation,” said Tom Scheft, 67, the drummer. “We got that first huge dance of the year, the Abbott Mixer.” He remembers a crowd of 600 to 700 people.

In the 1960s, the British Invasion inspired hundreds of bands in the United States. But what sets “Calm Before …” apart, according to two New England collectors who have both reissued the album on their own labels, was the original material and the scope of the band’s influences.

“They had a real musical vision, which for prep school students, it’s very ambitious,” said Erik Lindgren, the owner of Arf! Arf! Records (who has filled in for my father on bass several times over the past two decades.) “This isn’t just another garage-rock record; it’s a statement of the times, and I think that’s what really makes it visionary.”

Aram Heller, the owner of Stanton Park Records, agreed. “Anyone who collects enough garage music, you can sit there and listen to Pebbles records, you can listen to all the comps that came out, and some of them start to sound alike after a while,” he said, adding that “Calm Before …” was made by teenagers living in a tense time in American history. The Vietnam War had started; the civil rights movement was boiling; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated the year after the band’s members graduated.

“There’s a sound to it, a sound to it and a feel to it that’s just like nothing else,” Mr. Heller said. “It’s not something they engineered, either. This is something they just did.”

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