Requiescat Steve Albini - The Great Dies at 61

sTEVE bRACELET
I don’t remember where or when I first met Steve, but unquestionably it was engaged in our shared pastime, at a poker table.

Someone once shared, “hey, that’s Steve Fucking Albini!” I didn’t know his name at the time. I had to look it up. I went down a rabbit hole, learning about his impact on so many bands and musicians that I was familiar with, and in some cases, cherished and celebrated. I later learned how much he didn’t choose to have an “impact” on these musicians, chose to elevate the artist and the art. They were buoyed by him anyway.  He thought that the music industry took advantage of their power dynamic, taking so much of the money that the artists had rightfully earned, and leaving them relatively little. He refused that model, taking credit only as "recording engineer", and not as "producer."

The New York Times’s Ben Sisario shared, in a sentence I could only dream of constructing: “With a sharp vision for how a band should be recorded, and an even sharper tongue for anything he deemed mediocre or compromised, Mr. Albini was one of rock’s most acerbic wits.”

He wasn’t just one of rock’s acerbic wits, nor one of music’s sharper critics, he was simply a great wit. The driest of dries. And a critic of all things in life. 

Steve Albini Lincoln Hall 2020

Steve and his band, Shellac, were just about to hit the road to tour their first album in ten years. 

One time I was having dinner with my son and noticed he was wearing an “In Utero” t-shirt, the album that Steve famously recorded (but didn’t produce, dammit!) I snapped a photo of my then twelve-year old son and sent it to him. “One of his favorites too”, was the caption. 

Within minutes, Steve’s retort: “Wow, if he didn’t look just like you, I would be convinced you were a virgin.” 

When I first got invited to play poker with Steve and his regular crew, maybe 10-12 years ago, it was at his recording studio - Electrical Audio. I was so giddy about getting to play cards in the man’s studio. The place where he makes magic. And I wasn’t breaking in, or sneaking in in an oversized horse (though he would have probably loved that), I was actually there legitimately. 

Years later he became a regular in my weekly game. 

I was at the table watching when he won his first World Series of Poker Bracelet in 2018. A couple of years later I found a photo of him dispensing of Chris “Jesus” Fergusen and Jeffrey Lisandro, two of the greats, at a then-four-handed final table.

Steve First Bracelet 2018 Ferguson Lisandro

I said, “Steve, I found a great photo of you winning your first bracelet. Should I send it to you?”

“Nah. I have enough photos of me.” he retorted in his completely earnest, and typical way. 

In 2022 I was fortunate enough to have invested in his results in the Event #32, a $1500 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event at the WSOP. He never sat at the top of the chip leader board, but elimination after elimination, he was still there. When he got down to the final table, everyone who knew him dropped what they were doing to go “rail” Steve (to watch him alongside the rail around the final table.) 

He brought a brass bell to the final table, the kind you’d find at the front desk of a hotel from the 1950s. Every time he won a hand, he rang that damn bell. He thought it was funny. His supporters thought it was hilarious. 

After awhile, Steve could see that it was irritating his opponents and he stopped ringing the bell. “It’s driving them crazy,” he relayed. For most poker players, trying to destroy their opponents, this was a feature of the bell. For Steve, who’s sharp wit, critical mind, and apparently irascible temperament (I’ll never know how much was manufactured), his public persona often belied the man within. He didn’t want to piss off, or even “tilt” his opponents. He just wanted to beat them. 

Steve was a tender soul. He was a liberal progressive from Missoula, Montana. He was a genius, with a guitar, while recording to GP9 on a Studer A820, or in a debate about human rights and human decency. I learned an awful lot from Steve. 

That night Steve miraculously (and, I mean, it was truly unlikely so many different times) outlasted the field of 773 players (also his area code) and won his second World Series of Poker bracelet. I got to see them both. 

Steve Lundeen Wins Second WSOP Bracelet. I had the privilege to celebrate with him.

Steve won the bracelet, then broke the bracelet. He called it a “carnival trinket”, but he was thrilled to have won it again. He referred to Las Vegas as a “mob toilet” and “how poor people think rich people live.” He hated Las Vegas, but he loved to compete.

When asked in the post-tournament interview how he felt, he said “great. I’m now tied for third in bracelets in my home game!”

Always hilarious. 

The last time I saw Steve, three weeks ago, he was leaving my poker table in a huff. He’d had a bad night, he’d gotten his ass kicked at the table several times. He never really showed anger, but this night he was unhappy with himself, and perhaps a bit angry with the “poker gods”. He muttered something like “don’t invite me back”, about 20% serious and 80% cheeky. Well, maybe 50-50 in the moment. 

Two weeks ago his RSVP’d his regrets, as he was in “French France”, as he put it. 

I enjoyed EVERY SINGLE INTERACTION I had with that man. 

“Requiescat”, Steve. A word I learned from you. 🎈