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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

'Whatever Happened Happened': An Oral History of Speak In Tongues

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 1:01 AM

click to enlarge KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE

Like the act its name describes, the underground music venue at Lorain and West 44th, Speak In Tongues, represented an otherworldly mindset. What happened there, exactly? Chaos and invention. Performance art, music and theater. Freakouts and unnamable subterranean weirdness. There were lots of cats and plenty of cat piss. Exploding meat. Fireworks. The grit of Cleveland's ethos on acid. The place existed in its own universe and by its own rules. It wasn’t always pretty, but that was the point.

From the fall of 1994 to New Year's Eve 2001, Speak In Tongues evolved as new characters moved in and designed the venue according to their individual and collective visions. It began life as the dream and delight of Dave Petrovich (aka Dave P.) and Shelby Bell, but thousands of people from around the world would leave their imprints over the next seven years, leaving a legacy that’s still referenced and revered today. Pull a string on Cleveland’s current creative climate and the thread will inevitably tug back to that little venue.

What follows is certainly not a full accounting of the life and death of Speak In Tongues. It's a kaleidoscope of hazy memories and well-worn tales. There are, of course, voices that weren't heard this time around, and nearly infinite stories that will have to wait for the next spin through the history. And that’s okay. For now, let’s roll the tape.


The Beginning (1994-1995)

Dave Petrovich, Founder
A lot of people think it has to do with Talking Heads, and it doesn't. I mean, I like Talking Heads, but I was thinking of the weird spiritual place somebody is in when they're speaking in tongues — that outside-of-yourself feeling of just going on intuition. I think when a lot of people heard it originally, they thought it was Speaking In Tongues; instead, it was just Speak In Tongues. Like, "You should do this. You should speak in tongues. Or, you can do this here. This is a good place to speak in tongues."

Rob Sabetto, Dave's roommate
[Dave and I] were sharing the upstairs apartment of a two-level on Clifton when he told me he was moving out to start it. That was September '94. He told me the concept and where it was going to be — in some old storefront/dance hall/bowling alley/whatever-the-fuck it was on a dingy little strip of nothing on Lorain Avenue at 43rd — and I didn't think much of it.

Dave Petrovich
The whole idea was a place, a clubhouse, where we could do art and play music and hang out on a regular basis — a place that wasn't a club with a bar where everyone had to pay and where there was a business side to it.

Rob Sabetto
I was more concerned with finding someone else to take his place on the lease.

Leland "Pugsley" James, Dreyfus
Dave worked at a video store in North Olmsted, and we used to go there all the time. He was telling me about how he wanted to create this musical collective, where bands could play and they could do all sorts of art projects. It sounded really cool, though I didn't know the grand scheme of it all.

Dave Petrovich
[Rob and I] had had the idea to do a pop culture 'zine that was pretty much open-forum. It was going to be submission-driven. We would go down to Kinko's late at night on Euclid, right across from CSU. And we would usually go in there after 1 or 2 in the morning to use their computers. There was a guy who was working there who was really helpful and knew a lot about music — more like avant-garde music. His name was Shelby Bell. He and I went on to open Speak In Tongues. Initially, it was going to be tied to this magazine that Rob and I were working on.

Cat Celebrezze, Walking With Edna
Walking With Edna had this weird moment in like 1990 or whenever, where we had a pretty significant following, but everybody was like 13. Back then — like today, places really cater to 13-year-olds — but back then, bars were really the places where you saw bands. And bars didn't want 13-year-olds there. It's a problem. They don't drink. So we struggled for a long time to find a place to play even though we had a huge following. There was no space that was catering just to people who wanted to see music and wanted to dance — to see a performance that's not tied into all these sorts of capital gain incentives for bars to have bands.

Dave Petrovich
I had become aware of [the building] because I went to see Craw at the Euclid Tavern a bunch of times in the early ’90s and met a lot of cool people from hanging out at the Euclid Tavern. One of the guys who was close with that band had rented out and was living in the top floor of that building at 44th and Lorain. His name is Tim Funtjar. He and his friends who were living there at the time were hosting DIY, BYOB rock shows. Tim was friends with Ralph Haussmann. Ralph was sort of a music nut to the nth degree — crazy record collection, really into avant-garde stuff, electronic stuff, weird rock 'n' roll. He provided the PA system that Tim was using in his space.

Ralph Haussmann, Sound Engineer
Me and another guy, Tim Funtjar, we had a performance space on the third floor of the building about a year and a half before Speak In Tongues started. We were in the building already doing shows. I had been doing shows since '88, '89 at different places, different venues. I put on a lot of the shows, and I kind of ran sound.

Steve Kuchna, SIT Inhabitant
In the mid-90s, Danny Noonan, Jake Kelly and I started hanging out there. We started going to Food Not Bombs, which was hosted on the second floor of the building at the time. And then we started going to shows at the Pieta, which was the third floor, which Timmy Funtjar ran at the time.

Jake Kelly, Tenant
I was a high school punk kid living in Fairview, and I was doing weird home recordings and trying to get bands together.

Dave Petrovich
We got into the [first-floor] space, and Shelby and I were like, wow, this is the kind of place we want to be in. It was really close to downtown but sort of like — Lorain Avenue at that point was definitely dilapidated and sort of off the radar, but still really easy to get to. There was a gas station right across the street for beer and cigarettes.

Rob Sabetto
I didn't quite grasp what he set out to do, and little did I know how much time I would spend there or what it would become.

Keith Kanderski, Pudding and Fruit
There was this benefit show coming up, and they wanted to create a venue for local musicians to play at.

Leland "Pugsley" James
At the time, I was playing in a band called Dreyfus and we were always looking for places to play. Me and all the guys I worked with, we all played in different bands and stuff, so we got the idea to do a benefit show. We did it at Horizons Day Care Center in North Olmsted. We had like eight or 10 bands. My band, Pudding and Fruit, Indelible, Whatever, a few others. We charged $20. We had to hire security, and we made like $600 or $800 after costs. None of the bands took any money. We gave that money to Dave to build a stage at Speak in Tongues. And it was kinda cool: All these bands that had played this benefit show, we kinda had an easy in to play shows at Speak In Tongues. My band played there a bunch of times.

click to enlarge 9 Shocks Terror often blurred the line between stage and crowd at Speak In Tongues. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • 9 Shocks Terror often blurred the line between stage and crowd at Speak In Tongues.

Ralph Haussmann

One day we heard some banging going around downstairs. The whole building was owned by the Ohio Communist Party. They had their offices on the second floor. On the ground floor at the time the Communist Party was running kind of a day job thing, where people could go sign up in the morning and get work for the day and stuff like that. A band or two was practicing in the basement. But like I said, we heard some banging and checked it out, and Dave P. and Shelby and some of their friends were building a stage. They had been to our shows upstairs so we kind of knew them.

Dave Petrovich
Three bands played there opening night. Prune Jive opened. Then Pudding and Fruit. Walking With Edna was the headliner.

Leland "Pugsley" James
Everybody was on the same page for the most part: having fun, making music, not hurting anybody. We were doing something that was under the radar a bit, you know? It was all put on by punks. It was cool: the power of a group — what a group can accomplish if they put their mind to it.

Dave Petrovich
The first art show that we did was mostly paintings. That was Oct. 22, 1994. That was a cool night. I was leaving my job; I worked at a really cool video store. And as I was leaving my job to get gas and bring supplies over to the place before this opened, I found a $100 bill on the ground, so I was able to buy a bunch of toilet paper and beer. That was a good omen.

Steve Kuchna
Since we were all high school punk rockers we all had our own bands. It was kind of natural that when Dave and Shelby started doing shows on the first floor — we knew them from hanging out — we started playing shows there. My band, Big New Plaid, played there in 1995.

Jake Kelly
I guess the first time I was ever there was to play the second show ever [in my band Squirrel Monkey], so that was pretty cool — and then to be keyed into the place from then on. We just started going to see whatever show there. It was almost guaranteed to be a crazy, cool show. It was a weird, crazy place.

Matt Fish, Musician (Whatever); Owner, Melt Bar and Grilled
I remember Dave P. had started this club, and it was very cool. Like nothing we'd seen before. We were used to playing real rock clubs like Flashes and things like that, where you had to have tickets and there's a bar and a sound guy and security and all this bullshit.

Denise Grollmus, Writer
The first time I was there, I was about 14 or 15. It wasn't any band that I knew; my friend was just like let's go to this amazing place called Speak In Tongues. I think they were called Pudding and Fruit?

Rob Sabetto
That first year was a blast, and it exceeded anything I expected. He and a couple guys — one of them was Shelby Bell — started booking bands. I don't know where they found them; they were really obscure and they were from all over. Rarely would I have heard of them. Once he started booking shows, it picked up fast. It seemed like all of a sudden, within months, the place had already developed a scene.

Cat Celebrezze
They got together and they rented that old Communist meeting house and they totally did it.

Denise Grollmus
It still feels real. Like, in my memory it feels like a Satanic ritual. It was really dark, and I remember thinking this place is so cool and so underground. I was just sort of blown away.

Ron Kretsch, Collective Member
I had already been going to the Pieta upstairs, because a former roommate of mine, Tim, had been running the place. When Dave and Shelby opened Speak In Tongues downstairs, it wasn't really any different; just playing there was better because you didn't have to lug your shit up three flights.

Dave Petrovich
Shelby was really good at networking and bringing in bands. We didn't have a computer there. We didn't have Internet access. He would do some email communication at his job at Kinko's at night, but a lot of it was done by writing bands or labels through the mail or calling. He really liked the Texas label Trance Syndicate, so we got a number of those bands to play shows in Cleveland when they were on tour. The word started getting out.

Leland "Pugsley" James
I just remember being really nervous about the neighborhood. I mean, I was a suburban kid from Rocky River going down to West 44th Street and Lorain. It was a little rough. We'd go across the street to the gas station, and they'd sell beer to anybody.

Eric Lerner, Concertgoer
It was a great atmosphere. We'd get there around 8:30, maybe 9 o'clock. And we'd walk over to that Clark station — I think it was a Clark station — on the corner and, depending on our mood, we'd either get 40s or some beers — those little Red Stripe hand grenades were popular — and some kind of snacks. There were a lot of little cliques around the space, hanging out in different areas. So we'd shoot the shit and wait for a band to play. It was what I did whenever there was an opportunity.

click to enlarge The front stoop, the gateway to another dimension. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • The front stoop, the gateway to another dimension.

Keith Kanderski
It was the one place I could go to let loose. I really admired what [Dave] was trying to do. He didn't want to screw over musicians. He was making a place where you could just do what you do. You don't need to follow any rules or anything. It was where my girlfriend — now my wife — and I would spend almost every weekend. It's a lot of lifelong friendships.

Eric Lerner
It shaped my social world. When I got back from college, it was sort of a meeting place. This was before text messaging and Facebook, so you'd sort of go to Speak In Tongues and see who was there.

Keith Kanderski
After every show was the dance party. To this day, I've never seen the movie Pulp Fiction. They always played the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

Dave Petrovich
One thing that we used to do in the first year — it became a ritual — we would play the Pulp Fiction soundtrack after a show, just over and over again, and dance until 6 in the morning. That was cool. Really fun. All the people that were there remember that stuff. Those are times that, you know, even if they're a little hazy, you know that they happened and they brought a lot of people together and they were super fun.

Liftoff (1995-1997)

Dan Santovin, SIT Tenant
How I got involved was I was living with Brian Strazek, who had recently started a band called Grain. We both worked downtown. I worked in the Chester building, and he worked in the grocery store and coffee shop across the street with Dave.

Lawrence Daniel Caswell, Concertgoer
Grain is one of my favorite Cleveland bands of all time.

Dan Santovin
Brian and I moved in with Brian Noga and our friend Ryan Rinella, who was in another band from the Slavic Village area. We literally moved all our stuff in from our house in Tremont and then left the next day for the Grain tour. We were gone for almost two months. That kinda left the place in Ryan's hands.

Brian Strazek, Grain, SIT Tenant
We had known about it — Dave Petrovich was running it, and it was around. He was in the process of moving upstairs. This was right before Grain went on tour, so we said we'll take it. We went on tour, came back and that was our new house.

Dan Santovin
We came back from tour, and Grain eventually broke up. So it was the four of us at this place, and we were kinda like, "Well, what do you want to do?"

In the three years that Grain was together, we had made all these connections. It was the post-hardcore, pre-emo days of the ’90s, where there were huge scenes in Michigan and Chicago, western Pennsylvania. There were all these bands like Promise Ring, Cap'n Jazz, whoever it was, this whole movement of kids doing shows. We were friends with pretty much everybody from all the traveling we had done, and I was kind of the unofficial mascot-roadie of the band that went along for the journey. So it's like, we have all these connections. Let's get these shows started.

Brian Strazek
We wanted a place that we could call our own and do it. That time in Cleveland, too, there was nothing there. We knew what we did was a little wilder, so it was perfect opportunity. It was a beautiful building. We knew it was the communist headquarters previously; it just all made sense. We were excited to get back and see what would happen.

Dave Petrovich
I think that — especially when Dan Santovin moved in with Grain, he was really aggressive and he sort of picked up where Shelby had left off. And he definitely had a knack for contacting booking agents and getting bands that he liked to play there under circumstances that maybe these agents and bands and labels wouldn't have dealt with if he had been working for a club.

Dan Santovin
The band Joan of Arc — Tim Kinsella and those guys came and did a show and they loved it. They were working with Susanne at Flowerbooking in Chicago. She kinda handled everything that was happening — she and Bettina who ran Thrill Jockey. They were the two matriarchs of the Chicago music scene — booking the bands, running the labels, keeping all the bands on the road and all that.

The guys from Joan of Arc go back there and they're like, "Hey, there's a new place in Cleveland. You should go there."

I remember getting a call from Susanne. She's like, "Obviously I've got options. I can put this show anywhere. But everyone's telling me I should do it with you. This is the show: Tortoise, Five Style and the Sea and Cake." At that time, they were the shit. They were the three biggest bands of that Chicago indie jazz scene.

I'm sitting there shitting myself, like, "Are you serious? Of course I want to do it!" That was the first show that we really had to — like, none of us had money, but I knew that we had to make it a good show. I wasn't worried, I knew it was going to sell out. But what they were paid was like a third of what they'd make at another venue. We totally got a steal. It was one of those things, like, Oh my god, what just happened?

Ralph Haussmann
Eventually I started helping them out with their PA stuff too. I'm guessing by sometime in '95, I think Tim either moved out or got tired of doing stuff, I kind of migrated downstairs. I remember my first show, sometime in '95, was the Dirty Three, a band from Australia.

Dan Santovin
[Ralph] had this whole 24-channel board with all these big amps and monitors, and he had them up on the third story of the building. When we booked that Tortoise show, he came to me and said, "Dan, I like what you guys are doing here. I want to leave all my equipment down here. Can you help me move it down? And then it's yours to use." That was probably a $40,000 or $50,000 sound system.

click to enlarge At home above the board. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • At home above the board.

Brian Straw, Collective Member
We had an awesome sound system there, which was really unheard of for a DIY space.

Brian Strazek
There was a big underground community in Cleveland for the performance art stuff, the experimental stuff. Ralph Haussmann was a big part of bringing that in to Cleveland — stuff you just couldn't believe you were seeing.

Dave Petrovich
By the time they were doing that, there had been this reputation that was established that it was a good place, that we treated everybody well there.

Alan Sparkhawk, Low
It was tough part of town, and it didn't look like there were many thriving businesses at all. So you're here in this abandoned-looking storefront, and there's this place where they do shows and shit. We showed up, and they made us dinner. Like, "Hey, we made you some pasta."

Eric Lerner
In the mid-90s you had this incredibly active emo/emocore scene. It was mostly smaller, gritty Midwestern cities. Detroit had a scene. Kalamazoo. Pittsburgh. DC, certainly. That became a way for kids who didn't necessarily fit in or want to fit into their schools to discover this rich, interesting world around them that was kind of a neat little insider's secret in a way. Speak in Tongues was very much Cleveland's outpost for that scene.

Dave Petrovich
And at that point, we had access to the whole basement. That was made into bedrooms. It was actually a pretty big area.

Ralph Haussmann
It really only worked if people were living there and paying a little bit for rent.

Jake Kelly
Rent was $800, which was fairly cheap considering how many fucking people lived there at a given time. Between four and six or seven. And floaters like Ginchy. And 10 cats.

Dave Petrovich
Living in a basement underneath a rock club can wear you out. There was always a snarky attitude or a necessary level of sarcasm that you had at that place, that you needed to survive. It could be tough living there sometimes. There were shows five nights a week, and you work a day job, and people are there until 5 in the morning, and it's super loud. That stuff wears you down.

Shelby took his own life back in 1997. Steve Ginchy, who was sort of the spirit of the place, as far as art and music expression goes, he died. A lot of the people who were there in the beginning are dead, which is really unfortunate. Some of it was dumb luck, some of it was mental rock 'n' roll living-related, some of it was suicide.

Brian Strazek
It was a controlled chaos.

Steve Kuchna
I remember falling asleep to hardcore and emo bands jumping around on top of me. There were a million cats. We all chain-smoked in the basement with no ventilation. Ginchy, our homeless guide to the universe, was there with us all the time sleeping on the couch.

Jake Kelly
All the rooms [in the basement] were filled with garbage, and it was a wild assortment of garbage: legitimate garbage, like I said, like broken lamps and ripped-up lampshades and old socks, and then weird Communist propaganda from the ’40s and ’50s, because the Communist Party of Ohio had this literature moldering in the basement, which was maybe one reason why Communism didn't take off in Ohio. They didn't get the actual literature.

Ralph Haussmann
We were totally illegal, actually.

Brian Strazek
They got a grant to redo the storefront and never told us. All of a sudden, we woke up — we were sleeping on the couches — and you kinda woke up in an open mailbox. There was no front on the building anymore, and stuff was blowing in, people were walking by. Eventually they put up some plywood for us. It turned out great, but it was stuff like that — nothing was shocking.

Ralph Haussmann
The stairs going down to the men's room got blown up during one noise show.

Jake Kelly
A couple people took tumbles down those stairs. Obviously that's one of the risks you run when you're running an illegal show space where people bring as much beer as they want and drink it until they're tired of drinking.


Sam McNulty, Market Garden Brewery
I used to bike from Cleveland Heights to Speak In Tongues with my brother Paul in my late teens and early 20s and we would catch concerts there when it was a kind of freeform rave thing. It was a freakshow. There was nothing like it in Cleveland. The bar was not licensed, but you would bring in beer and they would hold it behind the bar. The suggested donation was $1 per bottle, so they would charge you almost a corking fee, if you will, or an uncapping fee.

Craig Chojnicki, Concertgoer
Apart from playing there, I saw William Hooker — the jazz drummer — play there with DJ Olive. That was an incredible show. I got to see Panasonic, that Finnish electronic band, and what was really cool. One show that really stuck out for me was that I got to see that band Low before they got really big.

Sean Carnage
Derek Hess did a show over there in 1995, and I went over and saw Unsane play. I was like seriously doing cartwheels and somersaults on the floor. I was so excited. I had never experienced anything like that. It was basically this free-for-all zone, this playground for young adult wastoids. Brian and Brian were there, and Dave P., and I realized this is going to be my new home.

Dan Santovin
Dave Petrovich didn't live with us, but he had just as much of a voice as well. He was very excited to see it grow. If there was something that he liked that was going on, he was there spinning records. He wanted to make sure that everybody was having fun. He would provide the afterparty. That's Dave.

Ken Blaze
Later, when I became more involved with the collective, I kind of got the idea that, OK, this is something that needs to be more documented. We need to remember this. I started to shoot more along the lines of that. [My book of photos] was about showing off what I saw while I was there. This isn't the ultimate history of Speak In Tongues. This is what I saw. And everyone could say the same thing. Everyone went for what they were into.

click to enlarge Danny Noonan, wrapped in old issues of the Free Times and on fire. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • Danny Noonan, wrapped in old issues of the Free Times and on fire.

Brian Strazek
Some of those pictures just capture the chaos. I think there's one where Danny's on fire. It's like, what the hell is happening here?

Dan Santovin
I could go on for days. How much time do you have?

And Then... (1997-1998)

Steve Kuchna
When my group of friends moved in, it was a passing of the torch from the Grain boys. The day we moved in was like when they were moving out.

Ralph Haussmann
Eventually I guess they got kind of tired of doing it and talked about moving out. I wanted to keep it going. I think Dave had moved out by then; Dave moved in and out of Speak in Tongues several times. So to keep it going I knew a couple Lakewood kids, and their bands were opening for different bands. It was mainly three guys: Danny Noonan, Jake Kelly and Steve Kuchna. Danny had a label, and I was helping him get recordings together for the albums he was putting out.

Jake Kelly
I think we moved in there in 1997, and it was me, Danny Noonan, Steve Kuchna and Steve's girlfriend. We moved in because, I think, all of the guys from Grain that were living there — Strazek, Noga and Santovin — were sort of tired of living the weird windowless subterranean life that was Speak In Tongues. And, I don't know, we were young and stupid, so we were like, "Yeah! We'll move in here!"

Steve Kuchna
You can live in an abandoned theater because it's Cleveland and there are few laws and no one has any money, and if you can find the abandoned theater and grease the palms of whatever wacko owns it — in our case, the heads of the Communist Party of Ohio — then, you know, you can get away with it.

We subdivided the basement into little private areas, little bedrooms. At certain points some drywall went up. There were also curtains and things dividing personal areas. For a while I had an actual room down there, which was cool because it had a door, but it was directly under the stage. I got used to it, but sleeping was kind of hard for a while.

Jake Kelly
So I lived in this heat room, which was a trillion degrees. It kinda sucked, and it was windowless. Not a lot of light seeped into Speak In Tongues. Given a night where five bands play and you have a few beers and you crash out at, you know, 4 in the morning, you wake with a start and you look at the clock and it says 5. You're not sure if this is 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. And you really have to go up a flight of stairs and walk across the entire building to get a sense of, oh, the sun is not out yet. It must be 5 a.m. Why did I wake up?

click to enlarge Conversations at the bar. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • Conversations at the bar.

Bill Badgley, Federation X
We're talking 1998, maybe 1999, and we had just started. We had to live in a van for two months. We were such lunatics that we were like, "Let's go on a national tour." And that's not a good idea, you know. To go on a national tour like two months after you start your band. But we were really young, like 20. We had spray-painted Federation X on the side of an old '77 Impala that all the mechanics told us would not make it past Detroit. We took it on seven national tours before it finally bit the dust.

Jake Kelly
I saw them in Sacramento and made a long-distance phone call to Dan, which was expensive, and I said, probably very fast, "Danny there's a band called Federation X and they're the best band in North America I just saw them last night if they try to book at Speak In Tongues you gotta book them OK bye!" Click. I think like literally a week later, they sent him a tape and a letter. "Oh! Best band in North America! I'll book them!"

Bill Badgley
Have people talked to you about the basement being full of cat shit?

Alan Sparhawk
Yeah, you know, it smelled like cat urine.

Jake Kelly
I was always less cats, less cats, less cats. And there were certain elements who were always more cats, more cats, more cats. One of the weirdest fucking things that ever happened to me in my entire life is: I walk into Speak In Tongues, and it's the afternoon. No one else is there. You would open the front door, and there was kind of a wall. You would go around and then you'd be in the main room. And I go around this little wall, and in the center of the dance floor is a circle of 10 cats, all facing each other. Not doing anything, just sitting stoically and staring at each other. And I walk in and all of them, in unison, turn and look at me, and I look at the cats, and all the cats scattered. I think I took my bag off, set it on the couch, went across the street and got a beer, drank it, scared, on the stoop. So the cats were there, and the cats were fucking weird.

Brian Strazek
The cats come up all the time. The cats were magical.

Danny Noonan
There was a joke that the only reason the place didn't burn down was because it was so saturated in cat piss that it would be impossible for any flame to take hold.

Lawrence Daniel Caswell
Pretty much every time I went there I had an asthma attack. Hot, mildewy, moldy. Cat piss. I'm sure that's not the first time you've heard about the cat piss. And whatever was emanating from the basement.

Danny Noonan
I wish I could remember the specific show, but we cleaned the place up and I went downstairs to change my shirt, and Scum Chop, that was the name of the cat, had her litter in my T-shirt drawer. She had her litter there. I'm like, "Goddammit!" It became a thing where I was mentioning it [that night], so like every 20 minutes I had to walk people downstairs because they wanted to see the kittens.

Steve Kuchna
I was like 19 at the time I started living there, and the level of personal and artistic freedom that we all had in our lives was pretty much unparalleled since then. It came with a high price: You lived in a filthy basement with six other people and had to try to sleep through emo bands. But it certainly granted a lot of personal freedoms that are no longer really necessarily available.

Dan Santovin
Brian Straw had just moved to town. He showed up one night at the club, and he was like, "I like what you guys are doing, can I just help out with sound or apprentice?" We introduced him to Ralph.

Ralph Haussmann
I taught other guys how to do sound. Brian Straw got really good at it. There was another guy who lived there, Steven Schindler — nicknamed Ginchy — he's dead now, but he ran sound a lot of nights.

Brian Straw
I moved to Cleveland when I was about 21, on a whim. I didn't know a single person. I came here for music for some reason. I found Speak In Tongues really fast. This was 1997, I think. I didn't know if I was going to plant my roots here or what; I was a kid, just trying some new city out. When I found Speak In Tongues, it felt right. It felt like I made the right choice and found a home and community to build from.

Jake Kelly
And then random weirdos like Brian Straw show up and end up living there two weeks later — I forget how long it was, it seems very compressed — but he was like a weirdo who was at a show, then he was a weirdo moving into the back room, and then he was my really close friend, someone who I cared deeply for. That maybe is a takeaway from Speak In Tongues: I'm friends with tons of people that I met there, still to this day. If anything, it's that. It's more personal than it is artistic or musical or whatever.

Brian Straw
I remember the first show I saw there really well and the last show I saw there really well, and everything in between was like one big show. It never really stopped for me. I would wake up in the morning, and the band's still there, and the next band's pulling up as we got back from breakfast.

The first show I saw there was William Parker and Susie Ibarra, who were amazing free jazz musicians. They were from New York. I just couldn't believe it, that I had stumbled onto something like that. It was so beautiful. I knew right then, this is fucking real. This is pure. I could tell by how the audience was reacting, by the space, the people involved with it, and the musicians working, that it was really a communal thing. It always had that feel. The door was always open, even if it was a non-show night.

click to enlarge Tableau vivant. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • Tableau vivant.

Jon Strange, Concertgoer
I remember being at a show, I think it was 9 Shocks Terror, and they come out and they put a huge metal trashcan in the middle of the stage. And like before you really knew what was going on, suddenly there was this amazing amount of noise — pop, pop, pop sounds, and light — and he'd set of a string of firecrackers in a metal trash can that was filled with ground beef. It was fucking disgusting. There was just ground beef everywhere, splattered everywhere. And the noise was horrifying, deafening.

Jake Kelly
I'm pretty sure the show was His Hero Is Gone, Boulder and 9 Shocks. And Boulder, I'm not entirely sure how, but they blew up a bunch of meat onstage. Like I think they had meat in a bucket or something, and then had an M80 under that and it blew up the meat. There was meat everywhere. At the time we had this dog who was running around and trying to eat this raw meat.

Jon Strange
I don't really know what the point was. As a vegetarian, it was extra gross. There was raw meat exploding across the room.

Patrick Munn, Boulder
Three-quarters of the band worked in a Chinese restaurant. This was not the only show/club that involved raw meat and blood!

Jake Kelly
This also coincided with us being in arrears on the dumpster payment, so the dumpster had been shut off. So what we were doing was buying new trashcans. The backyard was filled with like 20 trashcans, and we'd just pack these trash cans full. So all this meat got scooped up with the beer and the bullshit from that night — and, I don't know, dirty socks and hair and shit and stuffed into these cans and dragged into the backyard and left. That was maybe July.

Come August we finally get the dumpster back. And, like, no one's here, no one's going to help me, and it's time to begin emptying these trash cans into this dumpster. I chucked a few in, emptied them out. And I grabbed one of the trashcans from the His Hero Is Gone night. I upturned it, and it came out the way that cranberry sauce comes out of the can, except it was gray and writhing with maggots, and it hit the bottom of the dumpster and sort of splooshed. I got hit with a wall of stink so awful that I didn't even have time to turn, I just vomited. I vomited like propulsively and instantaneously from this. And I sort of reeled back and was like, "That was fucked up. OK. You know what? I'm done with doing the fucking trash for now!" So that kind of stuff was going on.

Leland "Pugsley" James
Apparently it was really disgusting. I never saw it when people were really living there. Dogs and cats pissing all over the place. The living conditions were really bad, but they did it. A lot of people left, and then some new people came in.

Sean Carnage, Artist
It was this scatological, explosive, anarchist, disgusting, putrid, liberating environment. It was seriously the most disgusting place. Literal shit all over the place, shit that would rise up on floodwaters out of the ground and fill the entire basement and sometimes the first floor. I had never seen the debauchery and degradation that I had seen there. It's like of like a Marquis de Sade thing. It's kind of very liberating. For a former Catholic schoolboy, altar boy, it was pretty much total transubstantiation as far as the spirit of a twisted artist.

click to enlarge The men's room, best avoided at all costs. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • The men's room, best avoided at all costs.

Jake Kelly
In one of life's great ironies, you can play music all you want until 4 in the morning. You can form a billion bands if you want. And you kind of just sit around and stare. Especially in the wintertime. It very much became like you were living in The Shining. And Lloyd, the bartender, was real, and his name was Ginchy.

Dave Petrovich
Ginchy had a big impact on that place. His artistic style was really cool and it was cool to see him decorate the place, even though sometimes it was really annoying because he could be such a nutcase at times. Undeniably, he was a creative genius. He would do really cool things to that space.

Ralph Haussmann
He was one of a kind. I would say a true artist, actually. He lived there. He looked after things a lot. Underneath Lorain Avenue were these catacombs, which was actually the roughest place to live. Ginchy lived in there, under the street in the basement.

Matthew T, Promoter
Ginchy passed away a few years ago. He was a cool kid. He operated on a different plane of existence. I can't say a bad thing about Ginchy. He wasn't dangerous; to himself he was. He had a rough life.

Dan Santovin
Ginchy. That's a whole other story.

Ralph Haussmann
We always had a lot of different characters coming to shows.

Denise Grollmus
I will always remember Bleeding Ear Man. He was such a fixture at so many shows. He was in Bent Crayon one time talking to John, and at one point his ear just spontaneously started bleeding. He just sort of like covered his ear up and was like, "Uh, gotta go," and ran out.

Jake Kelly
At one point we banned him. His deal was, he was crazy. He seemed to live in like a westside suburb, and he roller-bladed everywhere. It seemed like some of his fingers had been cut off; his hand was deformed in some way. He played the harmonica. He had a fanny pack with like some kind of battery-powered radio and speakers. He always dressed in gear appropriate to someone who's rollerblading: a helmet, neon shirt, spandex pants. That was the one thing that wasn't crazy about him, because, well that is how you dress when you're roller-blading.

Oh, boy. I wouldn't call him a cool dude or a welcome addition to the family, but he counts as one of those things at Speak In Tongues that at the time... he could have me boiling over with rage and I would want to kill this man , but then five or six years later he comes up and we're laughing about it. Like, ha ha ha, Bleeding Ear Man.

Ralph Haussmann
Bleeding Ear Man was actually a music fan. You'd see him being pulled by his dogs up and down on Lorain on his skates.

Brian Strazek
There were times when he'd roll in and we'd turn him around and roll him out.

Jake Kelly
You would see him trucking down the middle of Lorain at 2 in the morning, like out in West Park, like a man on a mission. And he liked Low. And he would come to the show and try to play harmonica along with them, and it’d be like, "Stop." And he's like, "What? I love them!" And he loved Modest Mouse. He loved the music that was happening at Speak In Tongues. And he had something wrong with him, because as he'd be enjoying the music his ears would begin to bleed.

In Bloom (1998-2000)

Dan Santovin
If there was ever a band that was associated with Speak In Tongues, it's Modest Mouse. They're almost — I wouldn't say a house band, but they were up there.

I don't remember who exactly set it up first, because I was still kind of unfamiliar with them. I remember when Dave told me we were going to do the show, I was like, alright, cool, I've heard of these guys. Then, all of a sudden, people were like, "Holy shit, Modest Mouse is playing Speak In Tongues."

Danny Noonan
A big part of Speak In Tongues' history was this relationship with Modest Mouse. They played there when they were not that well known. The last show they played there they probably wouldn't have played except for the relationship that was there. They had outgrown us. That was huge.

Dan Santovin
That first show was insane. Isaac [Brock] is tripping the whole time and plays an amazing show. The bands are done — great turnout, everyone's super happy — and we end up pulling out the couch beds. Jeremy [Green, Modest Mouse's drummer] and I end up sleeping in the same couch bed together. Isaac wants to sleep out back behind the club. I don't know why the hell he wanted to do that; it was disgusting back there. Everyone crashes out. The next morning, I remember Isaac jumping on Jeremy and me and yelling, "Holy crap! You're not gonna believe this, but in the middle of the night I was visited by aliens!" He goes into this whole story about how aliens visited him in our backyard. I think Jeremiah was used to it, but I was like "Holy shit."

Michael Graham, Blue Max
I was very into that band at that time. I still love their music, although the music by them I love the most is from that era. This was shortly after Lonesome Crowded West had come out. I saw they were on tour, and they had a show in Detroit before taking a break for three days. I called up Dan, and I said, "They're not stopping in Cleveland. You've got to get them to come again."

Dan Santovin
I remember one show where they played with this local band Blue Max, and Blue Max ended up playing two sets of the same songs because Modest Mouse was late.

Michael Graham
The place was totally packed. We probably had 30 minutes of songs to play. We waited and waited for them to show up, and they didn't show up. So we were just like, "OK, let's keep these people occupied." So we played close to an hour, and they still hadn't shown up at that time. Then they show up, and they had gotten lost somewhere — taken a wrong turn or something, so they were heading to Toronto or wherever.

Dan Santovin
They were coming in from Detroit. They literally showed up, pulled everything in, set up and within 30 minutes they were playing. No sound check. It was probably one of my favorite shows ever.

Michael Graham
Two songs from the end of the set, Isaac broke his guitar stings. He must not have had any others, because he was like, "Hey, can I borrow the guitar from the opening band?" I went out to my car and got my guitar so he could use it. He played the last two songs using my guitar. He was asking, "How do you make this thing super treble-y?" I showed him. The next day, I took my guitar out and it stank. Worst B.O. smell you ever smelled in your life. I had to scrub out my guitar strap with liquid detergent. But that was cool.

Jake Kelly
I knew how much [Michael] loved Modest Mouse. Everyone knew how much he loved Modest Mouse. And when he handed over the guitar everyone was like, "This guy! He's doing it! He's touching your guitar!"

Danny Noonan
During the whole time they were playing, I was only half paying attention. I had all the door money hidden in my room, and it was the most money I had ever had. It was only like a few thousand dollars, but having a few thousand dollars in your hand — it's like, what if someone sneaks into my room? Everyone will think I stole it!

That was the other thing: A lot of people knew that we lived there, but we really did see it as our house. And when you're having people come over and play at your house, there's all these other things happening. It's hard to completely lose yourself in the show.

click to enlarge The always-open front door was a beacon for the underground in Cleveland. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • The always-open front door was a beacon for the underground in Cleveland.

Pete Jennings, Ex-Astronaut
One of the more memorable shows I ever saw was The Nick Riley Allstars (NRA) at Speak In Tongues sometime in 2000 or 2001. While NRA was wrapping up a particularly intense and alcohol-fueled set, someone took all the papers out of a pair of nearby and freshly stocked newspaper vending machines on Lorain and started tossing them into the crowd. The ensuing newspaper melee left Speak In Tongues completely covered in pages from Scene and the Free Times. Most of NRA's gear was toppled over and generating a soundtrack of feedback. One person tried to toss Nick's bass drum and failed miserably when they fell flat on their back trying to hoist it above their head. Meanwhile someone set a fire in the lot behind the building.

Steve Kuchna
Ken's band, The Unknown, played one night, and me and my friend Marty grabbed one of the filthy couches from the back of the room and threw it up in front of the stage and started ripping it apart while his band was playing. And there was nothing weird about that. It wasn't unusual. Spontaneity was encouraged.

Ken Blaze
If you never went, it was kinda like: What is that? You just gotta go experience it. Any night, it could be a completely normal watching-a-band kind of night. Or it could be a freakin' night where people are shooting fireworks off or there's some weird performance art. Or you could walk in and there's no one in there, and you go in and sit on the couch and drink. There were backyard parties, rooftop parties, all kinds of things that just happened.

Matthew T
My film festival, 20,000 Leagues Under the Industry, was born there. I had a business partner in Los Angeles, and he was like, "Don't you have this clubhouse or some shit? Let's do a film festival." It was wall-to-wall people the first night.

Ken Blaze
It was definitely a closed group to a certain degree. Unless you were in the know, you probably didn't go unless you were going to see a show.

Matthew T
There were cliques in the sense that everyone had their own interests, but I don't think it was cliquey. I didn't see eye to eye with everybody, but I had the respect that we were all in this group together.

Jake Kelly
Did Danny mention the mafia stuff?

Danny Noonan
The police presence got worse. We all had this theory. There was a coffee shop on West 6th called the Drip Stick, which everyone kinda knew was owned by the mob. People found out that the guy was an informant. A lot of us who lived at Speak In Tongues worked there. It was right after that that the police presence became worse.

Jake Kelly
We all worked there. It was run by this woman named Laurie, and her husband Mike was this comically gangsterish guy who turned out to be actually gangsterish and was in fact a rat who was informing on all these other guys. I didn't see much, if any, illegal activity. It was a shitty coffee shop that people barely came into.

He was informing on an ecstasy ring. Now, I worked there and Matt worked there and Danny worked there and Straw worked there. There's absolutely no way that the people who were monitoring this man did not also begin to monitor Speak In Tongues. I know that Danny and I — like I would sit on the pay phone talking to Danny at work, bored, and we would have outlandish conversations. Like, "Do you think you could beat up a kangaroo?"-type shit. Around that time is when we started having SWAT teams raid us.

Danny Noonan
It's a verifiable fact that the phones at the Drip Stick were tapped. They used that as evidence against these mob guys. And we used the phones - this was before people like us had cell phones. So we'd be talking on the phone about stuff, about shows. I don't know — we were worried that maybe someone thought that Speak In Tongues had a connection. The police presence during that time really started to become a problem.

Jake Kelly
And we'd have undercover cops coming in. You could always spot them, because they'd be dressed real cool in their Indians gear. And it's like, boy, you don't fucking get it, do you? Like, whatever happened to Serpico, man? Grow a shaggy beard or something! Like, "I'm wearing my cool Indians pullover. This is casual, right? This is what the kids are wearing." You could spot them from a mile away.

The End (2001)

Jake Kelly
Everybody, in like one sort of spasm, decided they were sick of living in this cat piss-stinking hole in the ground, and all kind of moved out.

Matthew T
The final group was moving out. Everybody but Danny moved, and it was either going to fold in on itself, or... it was unclear.

Jake Kelly
In order for the place to keep going, it was decided to collectivize. I don't remember whose idea it was or if it was one of those things that just came in from the ether, like any organization that goes on long enough has to skew leftist. But it happened. And it was fine, it was cool, and that sort of eliminated — other than two people maybe wanting the same Friday night — eliminated any static.

Ralph Haussmann
My idea at that point - and Danny's and other people's — was to make it into a collective. Pretty much everyone who had been involved all along became part of the collective. We generally had somewhere close to 25 people or bands as part of the collective. That was kind of the final stage of Speak In Tongues. Everyone paid like $30 or $40 a month. You got to do a show whenever you wanted, you got to do a show however you wanted.

Ken Blaze
You put your name down and you booked your show. I was booking so much that I was like, OK, I've gotta be a part of this. I wanted it to last forever and to be something I could use. I was really active in booking shows and playing. If I lose Speak In Tongues, I'm going to be screwed. But also I knew all these people, so they're all my friends.

Matthew T
We voted things by consensus. We'd have monthly meetings, getting together and discussing the issues that had been going on. Sometimes it was heated and sometimes it was really easy.

click to enlarge The collective meets inside Speak In Tongues. - KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE
  • The collective meets inside Speak In Tongues.

Brian Straw
Another big change with the collective is that instead of the rent falling on the few of us that were living there, we moved out and we turned the basement into rehearsal spaces. Everyone in the collective paid a certain amount of dues each month. That was a big shift.

Ron Kretsch
I think at the end when Gene [Burnworth] bought the building and fucked us, there were like 30 or 35 people all paying in. There was a division of labor. Danny Noonan was more or less the caretaker. Great guy.

Dave Petrovich
In the end, Danny Noonan was the only person living there. I'm sure he'd say that there were points where, if somebody was careless or didn't clean up after a show, he was kinda left with last night's mess.

Danny Noonan
I tried, but, I'm sorry, it's a very old building with old wood. That was always a thing. We did try to clean a lot. People didn't think we did, but we did. It just didn't last long.

Matthew T
We all tried to take care of it as best we could. I remember when I did my film festival, the place had been covered in graffiti for a couple years. It was old. I had a buddy who worked for Sherwin-Williams, and he managed to give me enough paint to paint the entire place on the inside. I formed a painting party. And then I had to go do publicity and press, so I basically left a whole crew of kids there painting. I always joke that we Huck Finn'd a whole group of kids into painting the club for us. Those colors stood until the very end.

Dave Petrovich
At a certain point in time, the top floor, which Tim Funtjar had been living in — he left — and the place was rented to [Gene Burnworth,] who I don't think I ever met. He started doing shows up there that were kind of — I actually never attended any, so I can't talk about whether they were cool. But it seemed like it was more generic metal shows. Definitely not the kind of stuff that we would have booked downstairs.

Ron Kretsch
His name was Calvin, but he called himself Gene because Calvin didn't seem metal enough.

Ralph Haussmann
The Pit moved in [to the third floor] and started doing shows. It was mostly like high school bands, and whoever sold the most tickets got to headline the show. I don't think they had too many touring things. It was a little bit different than what we were doing. I don't think they understood us exactly.

Ron Kretsch
By the way, calling a third-floor place "The Pit"?

Ralph Haussmann
We didn't know about anything going between the owners of the building at the Pit guys, but apparently they had come to an agreement to lease the building from them — but lease it to buy, basically. We were told at the end of December of 2001 that we had two or three weeks to get out.

Danny Noonan
You could say it was childish, but we got kicked out because metalheads wanted that space and they wanted to turn it into a metal club. So, yeah, fuck 'em. I was 100-percent fine with all the damage that was done. That just might be the type of person that I am.

Matthew T
He got the deed and he kicked us out.

Danny Noonan
It was such a shady deal. I think it was the day after Christmas that we got the eviction notice and we had to be gone by the 1st. That came out of nowhere. And all these people were like, "This is how you fight it." But we were just a loose-knit collective. We weren't together enough to mount a legal battle. There was zero respect from the landlord, and the metalheads who had been living up there were horrible people. The sweatshirts they sold for their club, the back of them said "Don't Be a Bitch." Which is funny, because a year later they started cropping up at free stores and you'd see homeless people on the street wearing them.

Jake Kelly
I wonder how long it could have gone on, had those jackoffs not bought the building. And make no mistake, those guys were jackoffs. Their motto was "Don't Be a Bitch," which was ultra charming. I mean, it wasn't like we were clutching our pearls aghast that these guys had "Don't Be a Bitch" as their motto, but it was like, ughh, could you have a more groan-worthy thing? Was "Fuck You, Faggot" taken? Jesus Christ.

Dave Petrovich
Whatever. [Gene was] not obligated to rent to somebody he doesn't want to rent to. But there was a lot of animosity toward him. It wasn't just about being crazy and destroying the place. It was also aimed at "Fuck you" to that guy. "Thanks for kicking us out."

Brian Straw
We wanted to have a special night [on Dec. 31, 2001]. We tried to put a well rounded bill together of bands that were important to the venue. It was pretty eclectic. 9 Shocks Terror, The Unknown, I did a set, The Perfect Guy did a set. There might have been one or two others.

Steve Kuchna
We got notified really abruptly that were not going to allow us to continue renting the place and that we had to get out. We knew that, and, you know, the last show got put together [for Dec. 31, 2001] and the people there pretty much took to destroying the place by the end of the night — physically destroying the place, essentially to be like, "Hey, you want our clubhouse? Here you go; you can have it like this."

Sean Carnage
I was just in a mind state where I was not going to accept that Speak in Tongues was ending. A lot of people were extremely sad.

Matthew T
I still get a little choked up when I think about it, how the end was so tragic and drastic. It wasn't on our terms.

Steve Kuchna
The end was... Wow, that was a depressing night.

Matthew T
It may have gotten a little destroyed. There may have been someone like me who normally tried to stop people from knocking holes in the walls who said, "This is what's going to happen."

Dave Petrovich
It was kind of dark. I don't have good memories about the last hour in that place.

Speak in Tongues Has Escaped to the Future

Sean Carnage
I wrote that on the back of a window display that I'd built. I flipped it over and spray-painted that on it: "Speak in Tongues Has Escaped to the Future." It was not authorized by any of those guys, so hopefully they weren't pissed off. My idea was that it's this story of a temporary autonomous zone. It always exists, and it's just in another dimension. It lives forever.

Brian Straw
I was sad, you know, when it closed, but I was also kinda like, "Oh thank God that's over."

Ron Kretsch
Speak in Tongues felt unique because it felt like an incubator. It became just as much a circle of friends as it became a bunch of frequent concert-goers.

Brian Straw
I'm still active in the music scene here, but I don't see the type of connectivity — even locally. I don't feel like there's a place we can really call home. The kind of aesthetic that we lived by at the time, I don't see that much. You see it in little pockets here and there. You mention the place that does house shows in Tremont, and some of those have popped up in Cleveland over the years. And that's good, because that kind of DIY aesthetic carries the torch to a degree. A place on the scale of Speak in Tongues? I'm not sure that could happen again.

Dave Petrovich
They're all still involved with music in lots of different capacities. They're all important people in this city, culturally speaking, giving the city its identity.

Bill Badgley
It's completely defined by heart. There's no payoff that you can put your hands on. In fact, I'd say most of those people, myself included, suffered a deficit for doing what they did. And I really would doubt it that any of them regret it or would do it differently.

Denise Grollmus
I wouldn't be the person who I am today without the Cleveland underground music scene being such a huge part of who I was back then. I think it's such an important part of that area's identity.

Jake Kelly
I don't think there's any grand statement about Speak in Tongues. I think that it fit in with its time and place. I think it was a product of its time. It was definitely important to everyone or at least most people who went to it on a regular basis. And I'm glad it's gone. I'm glad it closed down. Places like that aren't supposed to last forever.

Craig Chojnicki
I still feel the spirit of that place, as it were.

Ed Sotelo, Viva Caramel
They weren't afraid to combine the raw, uncooked elements of society, and I think a lot of people really dug that. For me, it was a great incubator of ideas and a shining light in Cleveland.

Brian Straw
For the majority of its existence, it was very unorganized. If you wanted to do something, you just stood up and did it. There was no leader, nobody in charge. So it's not like you can tell somebody, "No, you can't do that." Whatever happened happened. There was no form. It's amazing, actually, that it lasted as long as it did.

Matt Fish
I will always consider Speak in Tongues probably the best venue Cleveland has ever seen, because of the way it started, the way it was run, the bands that played there, the connection it had to the neighborhood, the connection it had to the Cleveland underground scene.

Sam McNulty
A good friend bought the building [years later; the physical space is now occupied by the Herb'n Twine Sandwich Co. and Bloom and Clover Wax Studio], and when he was in there renovating he didn't have a use for that bar. We had just purchased the building that is the Market Garden production facility. We were just starting construction, and Michael reached out. I said that's perfect. We were going to build a bar in our tasting room, but decided it would be much more fun to have this whole backstory, this vintage reclaimed bar that has such a checkered past, taking on a third or fourth life in the brewery.

click to enlarge KEN BLAZE
  • KEN BLAZE

Matt Fish
Years later, somehow Ken Blaze and I were talking and the ["Speak"] letters came up. I said, "Who has the letters? Where are the letters?" I started this chain of sending out emails to Ken, Ron Kretsch and finally Dave P. I said I'd love to get a hold of the letters and put them on display at Melt. You know, as an honor to what Speak in Tongues was. It worked out that Dave P. had them on his mantle at his apartment. I asked him what he'd think about me taking the letters, cleaning them up, putting them up in Melt as an honorary remembrance of Speak in Tongues as a major part of my generation growing up in Cleveland. He was all about it. I cleared it with as many people as I could from Speak in Tongues.

Steve Kuchna
Other than our handprints in the sidewalk, there isn't much documentation to say that it existed at all.

Dave Petrovich
It was definitely a place that gave you freedom and a physical place to do art and music and let other people see it. I think a lot of people exploited that, and I mean it in a good way. Everybody had an opportunity to develop whatever skills they're recognized for now. This was a place where a lot of that stuff incubated and had a means to reach a wider set of people.

Ron Kretsch
The only bad thing about a post-Speak world is no Speak. The good things are plentiful. I think the scene, in terms of really sweet bands, is as strong as ever. Socially, all the shit I've always like about the Cleveland is still the same. It's always welcoming to new people. If someone is being pretentious or a snob, they don't find themselves welcome for too long. Show up with a cool band and a cool idea, you'll make friends fast. I love that.

Steve Kuchna
It's difficult for me to talk about, because I was really close to it, it was something really important in my life and there was a lot of really cool good positive things, and then there was kind of a darker negative side that a lot of people, for better, don't know a lot about. We had little or no supervision, and the supervision we did have was usually encouraging of our bad behavior. Again, a homeless schizophrenic guy was one of my best friends while living there.

I couldn't tell you exactly why it was such a remarkable place. I could go on and on at length for hours, trying to describe every nook and cranny of the place, and it still might not hit on why it was such a remarkable place. The point is: Virtually everyone who ever set foot in that building for a performance has some kind of memory of it, where it's this indelible memory that they cannot forget. There was something magical — maybe it was haunted. Well, it definitely was haunted in a good and bad way. There was something kind of magical about it.

Jake Kelly
It's unknowable. That place is probably most remembered, if it's remembered by anyone at all now, as a place that Gordon Solie and 9 Shocks played. Or where Modest Mouse played their first show in Cleveland, for anyone who's a fan of that band. But that's just way too easy. The actual breadth and scope of it is sort of unknowable. It hurts the brain to ponder that.

***

In August 2003, Matt Kuchna, Steve's brother and another denizen who lived in the spirit and physical space of Speak in Tongues, penned a remembrance of the place. It exists now at the archival speakintongues.com (a site which also includes a semi-complete listing of every band to play the joint, big and small, as well as a concert poster archive).

"If you must open your mouth," read a poster in the back room that had been there forever, "Speak In Tongues."

David Petrovich (aka "Dave P. the place to be" aka The Perfect Guy) put it up to inspire Grain's West Coast trip back in '95 or so, but it remained an appropriate slogan - especially as few people knew it was there.

That was the thing about Speak In Tongues: more myth than reality, it was also more real than it ever could have seemed...

Those who never went there, or those who've only heard about it after the fact, can't imagine it. It wasn't what one thinks of when one thinks of a music venue, which is how it is primarily remembered. It was the West Side epicenter of the underground, no matter how high-minded that may sound: a social club, gathering place, residence, crash pad, rehearsal hall, group therapy center, riot ground, support system, and totally against the "law."

Speak In Tongues hosted a dynamic array of events, not limited to the 2,000+ performances by musical acts including names famous, unknown and notorious. There were movies, plays, happenings, meetings, parties and camaraderie (and fights, trash, disputes, arrests, raids, fires, floods and animals).

All this without a license, without "management," without a leader - a true collective long before it eventually became one, a concrete manifestation of the febrile lasting hopes and desires of generations of certain types of people, Speak In Tongues was for and of those who believed and who continue to believe, often without return, that there's something better. And what's better is to take it, make it and make it happen, whatever the hell that is.

Speak In Tongues belonged to everyone. When it closed, something very special was lost, and in many ways, that spirit yet founders without another real home. The diaspora is often unspoken; the loss still is painful. Speak In Tongues can never be duplicated, never re-created - but that doesn't mean "don't try."

It means remember. It means recall. It means rebuild.

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