On Friday, September 8th 2007, Tony Cavagnaro was driving to meet bandmates ahead of an upcoming gig in Buffalo when he lost control of his van, struck a tree, and died on scene. He was the spiritual leader and one of the driving creative forces behind the local groove-rock extravaganza that is The Buddhahood. He is survived by his loving wife and son, Jan and Calvin. He was 41 years old.
I confess that, even on birthdays, I’ve never been one to either inquire after anyone else’s age nor share with them my own. It’s just not the first thing I think of. But when I read that Tony was 41, I was shocked both by the length and by the brevity of his life.
Because to any of us who had the privilege of knowing Tony, however momentary or tangential that knowledge might in so many cases have been, it was impossible not to see a man whom in his one great heart carried the boundless enthusiasm of a teenager and the knowing, measured practice of an elder-statesman. If age was never a determinant factor in my life, where Tony was concerned, there was this strange elemental permanence. That he wouldn’t always be there was not something that had ever crossed my mind.
And the man had stories. Days and days of stories, to which there never seemed an end. I recall driving with him to a festival at Brushwood, Sirius Rising, cruising down the 90 and listening to story after story about all the different bands he’d been in. As I listened, I didn’t mind the fact that hearing all his stories made it clear how little I’d actually accomplished musically: to have even attempted to keep pace with him would have meant reverting to high school marching band stories! What was inspiring was hearing about the experience of a man whom, more than most, had learned to live life on his own terms. For Tony, those terms were musical. For me, it was the first time in a long while that I’d considered life as something other than a thing requiring a tie between nine and five, if even in the same moment, I realized that music wouldn’t be my calling.
But as much as there was to admire about a musician whose music I so loved and whose career I so respected, there was more to admire about the man himself. When he inclined his head back to laugh his big, open laugh, it was like a slug of cognac: a strong shot of something warming to the soul, something that made you feel welcome to relax, something that hinted at even more fun just over the horizon. He had a fantastic way of making you feel like you were a part of something, like wherever you might meet him, the fun couldn’t have started without you.
And when his son was born, it was a joy to see him become a father. Whether that was standing on the roof of Tonic and thumbing through the book of pictures he’d proudly thrust into my hands, or watching him change diapers and videos for little Calvin while I made attempts at fixing his computer, Tony’s devotion to his family was plain to see. It was clear that, even with all the love he extended to his friends, his bandmates and his fans, the lions share was reserved for Calvin and Jan.
Now that Tony’s moved on, hard though it may be to see now, it’s not that the world got smaller and colder for those left behind, but rather that a we have lost a unique conduit through which we’d grown accustomed to receiving the love this world has to give. Tony lived with love in his heart, and in his name, we should do the same. Gather your friends close and show them your heart. You never know when it might be their time – or yours- to move on.
I come from love,
I live with love,
I speak of love and I will leave with love.
~ Tony Cavagnaro, Purify