Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Max Friedenberg, 1968-2014

Max Friedenberg died a few days ago. He was 45 years old.

Max was my friend. At Langley High School, he was the singer for my first real band. Max taught me a lot about performing. I became a singer and frontperson in no small measure because of how easy he made it seem. I learned to write songs in a band with him (and Darow Han, Howard Olsen, Spencer Lamb, and Brian Johnston). Max made me realize that songwriting wasn't impossible -- you could write a song right now. "C'mon, let's do it. I have an idea." And then we'll write another one, whether this one is good or not.



Max was charming and funny. Well-liked, and well-known in school. The sort of guy who'd stop the bullies with humor, and give you a ride home.

We dated some of the same girls in high school. If I remember correctly, we even simultaneously dated sisters. We hung out a bit less after he went off to American University (he was a year ahead of me).

When I was in college and starting to plan my move to L.A. to make it big in the music business, Max was already there, again, years ahead of me.

Max was the lead singer for a band named Clyde (Scots/Gaelic for "heard from afar", and thus, presumably loud and powerful). Clyde were a sort of Christian Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were playing shows with bands like Fishbone, No Doubt, Jane's Addiction, Thelonious Monster, Mary's Danish, Hole, Lock Up (Tom Morello's pre-Rage band) and pretty much everyone else. You may not recognize all of those names today, but in the early 1990s, that was a "who's who" of the L.A. scene.

Clyde had made their own album, produced by Earle Mankey. Geffen and Elektra were in a bidding war for them. The band was regularly packing and selling out clubs like the Roxy and the Whisky A Go Go.

Max said "no problem, man, I'll show you around. It'll be great. We'll get you guys to open for us".


And then, just a couple months before I was going to graduate and move out there, Max called me up. He sounded different on the phone.

He told me he'd had a mental breakdown. Moved back in with his parents in DC. He asked if I could come by and visit.

I hung out with Max at his parents' home before I went off to L.A in the summer of 1991. He wished me luck, and said he'd hoped to get back out there at some point. I found my way to and around L.A. without his guidance and wisdom. A story for another time.

Max was hospitalized and eventually diagnosed bi-polar. He had to quit his band, just as all of his years of work were about to pay off. The once in a lifetime shot, un-fired.

I think about how difficult it must have been for Max to step down from that kind of moment and pressure and chance.

Perhaps even more difficult, he had to wrestle with this: He thought he had a divine vision, a God experience, something that forever changed his life and worldview. That experience led him to convert to Christianity and power Clyde. Now the doctors were saying "all that stuff you thought was god -- and maybe all of your creativity -- was actually just mental illness."

I can't think of too many things more heartbreaking. I wove a modified version of that and our other experiences into the back-story for Sid Luscious and The Pants, as a way to pay tribute to my friend, and immortalize our days together .

Max moved to New Mexico in 1992 and had resided there ever since. He stopped doing music in favor of painting. In his words:

I became devoutly secular, thanked God for His time, but left Him with the rest of the band. I became a Buddhist. Later, I dumped Buddha for Philip K. Dick. Later I dumped Philip K. Dick and now I'm into Roger Penrose and Douglas Hofstadter...all else I can say is "the band broke up, but I stayed together."

Not long after I wrote a long piece about our Langley days, influences, and "Where Are They Now" in 2012, Max and I reconnected.

If you scroll down to the end of that piece, you can read some comments that Max wrote about his situation. He talks directly about his bipolar disorder, and his ongoing struggle with depression.

In our email exchanges, Max told me he was writing lyrics and songs and thinking about getting back into music. Perhaps we would even collaborate again.

I regret not leaping at that chance when it was offered. I regret not visiting my old friend.

Max, I wish you well on your journey. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for the music.

Max, singing at Langley High School (1987).

3 comments:

TheWayOfTheGun said...

Thanks for sharing this. Max and I were close at Cooper. My family moved away not long after I started at Langley. I may have actually seen your band perform while I was visiting a few years later. Max was singing and playing guitar in a band which played at someone's party. Despite my new wave leanings, that cover of "Boys Don't Cry" was the first time I'd heard the song.

Last time I saw Max was in LA c. 1989. Not long after, his mom sent my mom a Clyde single and some impressive press clippings. One reporter compared the power of their performance at the Whiskey to that of U2, who were blowing audiences away in those days.

I'm ashamed to say my parents did a much better job keeping in touch with Max's folks than I did with him. My mom gave me occasional updates of what Max was up to and how he and Kip were doing.

I too kicked around the idea of visiting Max and another friend in New Mexico but never got around to it. It's not a long drive from my home in Oakland, CA. I'd heard Max had gone back to calling himself Eric, his given name. I imagined my visit might be a bit like that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen's weird California friend keeps inexplicably calling him Max.

Rocque said...

The only person who could get away with giving himself his own nickname...
Eric Avila "Max" Friedenberg -
So much of me left with you - "I miss you" doesn't begin to describe this emptiness - Please come back over and see me whenever you want,okay..?
Rest easy, Brother. I love you.

Thomas Jason Ward said...

Thank you very much for this post. I was the 2nd guitarist for Clyde beginning in Sept 1989 and through our eventual breakup in 1991. Max was one of the most beautiful people I ever met. He had a presence on stage and off. Sadly, when he became ill, I'm afraid we didn't understand or treat him with the compassion we should have. We were young and on the verge of "making it" and it confused us to see our "brother" leaving us without much explanation. Several years ago, after becoming a Dad myself, I reconnected with Max via Facebook. Sadly, we did not ever have the "conversation" about his journey that left me with so many questions. I will treasure the many memories I shared with Max and the impact he had on my life. I am heart broken that I did not get to speak to him one last time...I was so thrilled to see the pure joy he had in being a father to Maya much like I do with my 2 children.

Feel free to contact me at: guitarnut71@gmail.com with any questions.