The Icarus Line lost one of it's founding members, Alvin DeGuzman, to a rare form of cancer earlier this month. Joe Cardamone (frontman and former "Five Minutes" guest) wrote an incredible story of their friendship and life together in the band. To honor Alvin’s life and legacy as a musician in the Los Angeles scene, we’re sharing his story. Thank you Joe Cardamone for the words.
The Icarus Line Must Die, a narrative film directed by Michael Grodner, just premiered at the Highland Park Film Festival and is headed to Desert Daze Music Fest, Tucson Film Fest, plus others, for a screening. This film is dedicated to Alvin.
Rest in peace Alvin DeGuzman.
My closest friend and musical partner died last night. He had been sick with cancer for the past few years, but in the last six weeks the illness really took its toll. I tried to visit him as much as possible in this time because I didn’t want him to feel alone. When we are up against the ropes, alone is the default way to feel. Especially in illness, no one else can feel from your perspective no matter how bad they might want to take your place.
Alvin and I first met on a little league baseball team in 3rd grade. We didn’t talk a whole lot; I didn’t really know how to make friends back then. A year later we ended up at the same grade school. I was unceremoniously removed from my previous institution of lower learning and ended up at the same Catholic [school] that he went to. Again, I didn’t really take to people very quickly, so I was kinda on my own. At some point, we got randomly grouped to do a paper mache puppet show project and that was where it all started. He made an alien puppet and I made a mini Axl Rose. We had to write and perform a story about Axl being abducted by an extraterrestrial. I’m pretty sure we had the room going during our performance. The next year, I told Alvin I had bought a guitar and that I was going to start a band, 5th grade I think. I remember he looked at me and said, “why?” I knew he liked to draw, so I employed him to do an album cover of my yet-to-be-created first album. Shit, I couldn’t even hold a chord yet. Two weeks later I asked him, "how’s it going with that cover drawing?" And he told me he wasn’t going to do it. He did, however, buy a bass and had learned a bunch of Led Zeppelin songs. I knew the guy was sharp as a tack but in two weeks? Ok, yeah of course Alvin.
We got to jam at his folks house because his mom worked nights and no one could tell if his dad was around. I remember seeing him play for the first time and wondering how the fuck he learned songs I could only daydream of reciting. This was one month into his career as a musician. It was on. From there on out we were inseparable, a unit designed to figure out how to hit a target that seemed a million light years away from our realities. Where we came from, no one’s parents were in the music industry. No one had a direct connection to getting up on a stage, forget even trying to record in a studio. We grew up in LA, but not the LA that held inroads for sons and daughters of the connected. East Los Angeles might as well be a million miles from Hollywood. That didn’t stop us none, though, for all we knew everyone had to start from zero. It was a dream and for us that’s all we needed to be something other than what we were constantly told we were.
The rest of it you could read about somewhere else. We slowly saved, sacrificed, and scraped our way out of East LA onto stages. Our parents had meetings about us because they were worried about how serious we took this music shit. We fell in love with records and we fell in love with art. We became men together. It was never easy for us. There was not a day off. A lot of people came and went but no matter what I knew, Alvin had my back. He had my back even when I didn’t. He had my back when the entire world had turned theirs on me. He never wavered.
Playing music with someone for 20 years, fuck, 1 month, creates a bond that nothing quite else can generate. You become the survivors of the mission, like POW's, especially the conditions we had been subjected to over the years. I think it might be hard to explain for others to relate. It’s not just that you slept on a gas station parking lot floor together, it’s that you all did it willingly with smiles on your faces. When Alvin went to jail for copping to someone else dope and the van had been taken back by the rental company, Alvin rode in the blackness of a U-Haul box truck with me back to Cali in the dead Texas heat. That happened more than once. Nothing was ever going to stop this train.
My group had always been vetted in cruel and unusual ways, new people had to slowly be broken in because everyone else (members) had been in the shit together. Suffered together. Beat the slim-odds together. I can say with no degree of uncertainty that without Alvin, I would not have had the strength to press forward for so long. The new guy, no matter where he came from, whatever band, was applesauce compared to the pack of criminals that I ran with. Alvin being the saint, the moral compass, the exception. Success didn’t make a scratch of difference to him. When we had it all in front of 15k people at Reading Festival or when we had nothing a week later at a bar to no one in Arizona, doing music was the same to him, fuck the circumstances. For 20 years, Alvin turned up, played, and knew my songs better than I did. On more than one night, I saw the smallest guy in a tribe of small warriors pack the van entirely by himself. I would be out of breath on the curb next to him, he didn't phase. Alvin slept on the dirty motel floor for 20 years so that I could sleep in a dirty motel bed.
For years, he taught the band to play my music. It’s completely impossible to overstate what kind of sacrifice that is. There was no money involved, there was very little in the way of recognition, it was just what he did with his life. Alvin was a musician capable of playing at any station in the group (he played guitar both left and right handed, bass, and keys). He manned all these stations according to who had left the band for greener or more vanilla pastures. It was his music, too, and he understood that. I have spent my entire life writing about those close to me and he knew that we were telling the stories of our friends. He knew exactly why it was important and never questioned it’s nobility.
Alvin showed up. Always. If I was getting thrown out of my house because of some messy split; I knew he was on his way over so that I could throw whatever belongings that were still in tact in the back of his car. He got me the-fuck-out-of-dodge so many times it’s obscene. His character as a human was unparalleled. His moral compass didn’t waver, which wasn’t always easy around a bunch of nihilistic thugs who just as soon [would] burn the venue to ground [than] to do a soundcheck. If someone would get hurt, Alvin was out. That was the only time he would ever back away, if it was going to seriously be at someone else’s expense. He kept me from going over the edge.
I know he did that for other people too. Once you learned to speak Alvin’s language, you could count on an honest point-of-view. As long as you were smart enough to decode what the guy was saying to you. Even though he was shy and quiet, those who took the minimal effort to get to know him understood what this dude was about. He was all love. Even when he was being a hater, it was out of love.
In the end, he didn’t ever talk about how sick he was. There were no updates on his condition. Only third-hand info that we obtained however we could. He didn’t want to talk about it. Not because he was scared to but because he didn’t want us to carry that shit with us all day. Like usual, he was gonna carry this one, the last one. Less than two days ago, I held his hand and told him he could go, I know he was looking at me for permission even though he didn’t need it.
It’s fucked up how life works, the strange asian kid I met in class making paper mache puppets became my lifelong protector. Girls, managers, members, friends, enemies…they all come and go. Alvin never went anywhere. He was ride-or-die everyday, all day.
Before I met Alvin, I never really had a best friend, or really even knew that existed. After I met him, I was never alone again.
With tears in my eyes, I say goodbye to my friend. I love you homie, I hope we meet again.
Photos of Alvin DeGuzman are shared by Joe Cardamone.
Watch the teaser for the The Icarus Line Must Die below. Joe Cardamone performs solo and has begun releasing his new project, Holy War, in a series of volumes this year.
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