Valley Goth Scene Unites to honor Thom Gabaldon
By Matthew Yenkala
Every community, subculture or scene has its pillars--those individuals without whom that community will never be the same. The tragedy of losing such a person is magnified when he or she transcends one single community and connects with many others. Sadly, one such figure who loomed large over not only the local Goth/Industrial/Darkwave scene but the wider Valley music community, and who touched many others, has recently left us, far too soon.
Thom Gabaldon, also known as D.J. Darksouldealer, passed away Thursday, March 7th, just after midnight, following a short, intense battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The cancer had been detected in his spine last October and, after apparently being successfully removed, returned swiftly and spread to his brain.
His passing was peaceful and in his last few days his room, first at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix and then at Hospice of the Valley, was constantly filled with a rotating array of the many, many friends Thom had made in his two-plus decades of local visibility and infamy--many of whom stayed to the very end.
Originally hailing from Des Moines, Iowa, Thom made the Valley his home circa 1990. He was quickly ensconced at the "Mother" ZIA Records location on Indian School Road in Phoenix. There, for pretty much the next decade, he could usually be found behind the counter or on the sales floor, surrounded by his true love--music of all kinds--as well as movies, probably his second love. He was always happy to chat about music, make a recommendation (or occasional withering critique), and not-so-patiently explain exactly why ZIA's can't use yet ANOTHER copy of The Breeders' "Last Splash" CD. He even appeared in a semi-famous TV commercial for ZIA around the year 2000.
When he wasn't SELLING music, he was still constantly immersed in it--he hardly missed ANY concert, major or minor, national headliner or struggling local act; he was writing about it for the NEW TIMES as well as various blogs; he was spinning it at various clubs around the valley; and eventually, he was making his own (via his dark ambient music project DREAMCELL).
In the wake of Thom's passing there has been an immense outpouring of shock, grief and loss from those who knew him and even those who didn't, so there was no question that some kind of memorial was called for--and that music would be a central part of it. It was just a case of venue, and approach. As Thom was not close to his family (they politely declined involvement), nor was he especially religious (in any traditional sense, anyway), it was left to Thom's good friend Aleksandr Aeternum to shape the event, name it (Refuge, after a Hurricane Katrina benefit Thom organized some years ago) and find a home for it.
The latter problem was quickly solved as The Rogue Bar in Scottsdale was more than happy to play host. A longtime staple of many Gothic/Industrial events in the past decade, and a venue Thom frequented, it was the perfect spot. As far talent, Aleksandr didn't have to look very far: several local bands that Thom favored, and who felt they owed him a debt of gratitude, were happy to jump on the bill.
The night kicked off to the ethereal tones of longtime Valley staple Reliquary, before moving through several other acts including Audra (from the famed Projekt recording label), Ashengrace, The Captives (this author's favorite, though all the bands were great, and all offered something different from the others) and D.J.s She, Squalor and Self-Destrukt. And thanks to Aleksandr, some of Thom's DREAMCELL work finally had its live debut.
Throughout the evening well over 100 of Thom's friends and fans gathered, swapped stories and anecdotes about him, and took comfort in one another's company, which went some way to ameliorating the (physical) absence of the man of the hour. Many glasses were raised and many drinks consumed in his memory. It also marked perhaps the biggest gathering in at least a decade of the now-widely-scattered "Old School" Phoenix Goth scene, which used to haunt such legendary venues as The Nile and others long forgotten.
There was no cover charge; instead, attendees were encouraged to donate what they could, with all funds to be split between St. Joseph's Hospital and Hospice of the Valley (both of whom took Thom on as a charity case, as he did not have insurance or resources to cover his expenses, and St. Joe's in particular covering treatments and surgeries that tallied at several hundred thousand dollars).
During Thom's final months it had been Aeternum (a "scene" name, as he prefers anonymity in regards to his daily life) who, at Thom's request, looked after him and saw to it that his medical and legal needs were met, and all appropriate arrangements were made. Thus, though it was a night of catharsis and closure for all who loved Thom, for Aeternum, it was also about paying back a deep personal debt: When he was a young "kinderbat" just entering the scene, it was Thom who took him under his wing, Thom who helped him get established, and Thom who protected and defended him from the sharks who are sadly present in every social swimming pool--all with no agenda other than helping a young misfit find his place.
Says Aeternum, "The event was a lively memorial to Thom's spirited dedication to music and his friends. He was deeply in love with the sonic stylings of all the bands on the bill, all of whom delivered top-notch performances to honor this stalwart friend."
And if I may be allowed a personal aside: Your Humble Reporter worked the door the entire night (only occasionally screwing up), which was a great way to interact with everyone. Hanging literally over my shoulder--on a hanger--was Thom. Or rather, his beautiful garb-like Victorian cloak, which I inherited with honor but which was too heavy to actually wear on a warm spring evening. It definitely lent to the sense that Thom was right there with us--although those who are inclined towards such silly notions had and have no problems believing, in fact, that he was, even if we couldn't see him.
My own history with Thom is probably about as long as anyone's. In the early 90s I first encountered him on his home turf at ZIA, where I'd already been shopping for years. For much of the decade--during which I worked at a succession of competing music/video retail outlets--we circled somewhat warily around one another, and there was always an element of contentiousness to our interaction. But gradually mutual respect and even something like fondness started to creep in, as it became clear to each of us that even if we didn't always agree or have the same taste--or even when we DID appreciate the same thing, it wasn't always in the same way or for the same reasons--we each knew our stuff; it was a clash of equals. The ice finally broke when we spotted each other randomly at a strip mall in the West Valley and had a shouted mock-argument across a crowded parking lot, which ended with him saying "I fear no West Side Goth!" and me responding, "Who are YOU calling Goth?" We eventually truly bonded at a number of live events and in many any online exchange, when we realized that we were both too alike, and too different, NOT to be friends. He was a sparring partner and kindred spirit, and I will always miss him. But I am truly and eternally grateful that shortly before his time here was up, we each had the opportunity to communicate to the other exactly what our friendship meant. I wish that could be the case with all of those I care about who have passed on, and to me it shows the value of overlooking the trivial and appreciating people while they are here.
As the great drummer Buddy Rich once said, "It seems to me that you should give flowers to the living."
(For those who were unable to attend the Rogue bar event, there is a second, more extended tribute to Thom, organized by his longtime friend Dawn O'Doul. Thom was a great lover of Pandas--in fact, he would often work, driving his cab 120 hours a week for 5 or six weeks, so that he could then take off to spends a month or two in proximity to the Panda preserve at the San Diego zoo. In honor of this, friends of Thom have been leaving stuffed Pandas, pictures of Thom, and other relevant items by the giant Panda sculpture in Margaret T. Hance park in downtown Phoenix, and will be doing so until May 7th, the second month anniversary since his passing--or until the park rangers decide they don't want it there anymore, whichever comes first.)
In any case, it was a night Thom himself would have certainly approved of, though he would have likely been terribly embarrassed by it (misanthropic as he seemed on the surface, his true heart of gold was not as hidden as he might have wanted everyone to believe). But wherever he's got to now, I suspect he's still smiling devilishly at the final donation amount of $666.66.
Rest in peace, Thom.
Your friend & brother,
Matthew "Matteo" Yenkala
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/thom.gabaldon