Broken Fever

The hardest thing Nick Brisco ever did was grow up

It all happened so damned fast, it's astonishing anyone still remembers at all.

"It was a quick ride and a quick fall," says Bryan Wakeland, Fever's drummer and a friend of Brisco's since the seventh grade. Wakeland, who would go on to play with Tripping Daisy until 1996 and is now finishing a tape of his own songs, recalls that he and guitarist Chris Claridy and bassist Jim Holbrook approached Brisco about writing for the band, but that Nick always nixed the idea. Brisco had become the star of the band, its voice and face; never mind that Wakeland and Claridy and Brisco had played in numerous bands before that, all of them writing the songs together.

"But I don't hold any grudges," Wakeland says now. "I never did. Yeah, I wanted to contribute tunes, but Nick was a happening frontman, and I didn't want to rock the boat. Look, we were young. When you're 21, 22, you think you know everything."

In the end, the reasons for Fever's breakup were numerous: After the band's Mercury/Polygram A&R person was fired, a new guy was brought in who didn't particularly care for the band's sound--which had changed considerably between the signing of the contract and the drying of the ink. No longer were they just a tight, fierce rock and roll band: Brisco had begun dating Cafe Noir's violinist Gale Hess, and he wanted to incorporate that band's ethereal Gypsy-jazz sound into his own work--which didn't interest Mercury, or Brisco's bandmates, one damned bit.

By early 1991, Fever began getting calls from labels that had rejected the band at first--Warner Bros., Columbia Records, RCA--but by then, there was too much strife within the band. By March, they had "self-destructed," as Wakeland calls it. Now, all that's left are the abortive demos Fever recorded for Mercury, which were released in the fall of 1996 by Parallax Records, the local indie Brisco occasionally works for. They were sold during Fever's well-attended, well-received reunion gig in late 1996 at Club Dada--so much for stardom.

Brisco has long insisted he couldn't get booked in Deep Ellum after he broke Fever up; he always felt as though club owners held a grudge against him for his brash decision to pull the plug on a band that had yet to even release a cassette.

"You know, by breaking up Fever, I didn't realize how important it was to Dallas and to the people who were involved with it, and a lot of people were hurt by it," Brisco says now. "Some of them took a while to tell me that, and I feel that the route and the way we were going, it was the right thing to do. I think I needed to be humbled. I mean, you don't know that at the time. You do it out of complete arrogance and youth, and you think you can just challenge the world. I was young Muhammad Ali, and I wanted to fight Sonny Liston, except instead of kicking his ass, I got knocked out."

But Boettiger says Brisco never got blackballed from Deep Ellum. If anything, Brisco thought he could pick up where Fever left off after the band broke up; he thought he could step back on the stage by himself and keep headlining weekend shows at Dada. But, in reality, he was no more and no less than a solo artist without much name recognition; the crowds knew four guys who called themselves Fever in the Funkhouse, not one man named Nick Brisco. In March 1991, he played a solo gig at Poor David's Pub--and the club was empty. He would demand the money gigs, only to have Boettiger and other club owners tell him he could play weeknight shows or, maybe, open for someone else on a Saturday night.

"I remember Nick came into the club once and wanted a show with a new band and wanted to play one weekend, and I was like, 'Well, no, you're starting over again,' and he got upset," Boettiger says. "I don't think he realized Fever was greater than the sum of its parts. Nick by himself was just Nick Brisco, and he was starting all over on a new project--and it wasn't Fever. I don't know if I resented him for breaking up Fever. I was disappointed, because they were right on the edge of being signed and making it. But it wasn't like, 'He screwed up, and now we don't have great weekends.'"

In the end, Brisco says now, Fever just wasn't big enough for the sound he heard in his head, a swirl of violins and electric guitars and bouzoukis and saxophones and accordions. As Fever began breaking up, Brisco approached Alan Restrepo--the owner of the local Carpe Diem Records, Cafe Noir's label--about financing a solo record. Brisco's idea was to bring in myriad local all-stars and have them turn his songs into complex, grandiose movements--each a mini pop symphony, every song a dozen crammed into one. Restrepo was initially into the idea. He told Brisco he'd give him $30,000 to make the record, and then helped Brisco assemble the greatest collection of Dallas musicians ever to appear on one record.

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