In the the nearly two weeks since Chicago musician Alejandro Morales died at age 46 on Sunday, January 3, remembrances and testimonials have flooded social media. He was not only a pillar of the city’s underground rock scene (most famously, he drummed for noise punks Running and experimental duo Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan) but also the kind of boundlessly generous sweetheart that absolutely no one has a bad word to say about. A theme I’ve noticed in these tributes is that people trying to honor Alejandro’s memory find it impossible to do justice to his many facets or to convey the enormity of their love for him.

Alejandro was my friend for many years, and I too find myself struggling for words. When I think of him, I tumble down the sad stairs of memory, overwhelmed by how great he was in so many ways, without even seeming to try—and I’m floored all over again by disbelief that this thoughtful, radiant soul is gone. I guess it’s just easiest to say that in all my recollections of Alejandro, whether from times thick or thin (and you get plenty of thin, shabby times in a DIY music scene), I always see him smiling.

So I’m not even going to pretend to be an impartial journalist here. Every installment of the Secret History of Chicago Music is personal to me in some way—these are real people’s lives I’m writing about—but this one is on another level. Also, you might want to have a seat, because this is by far the longest Secret History ever. I know that other writers and publications have capably eulogized Alejandro already, but I wanted to tell his story as completely as I had it in my power to do. He deserves it.

As best as I can remember, I met Alejandro “Alex” Morales in 2003 or ’04, but it seems like I’ve known him my entire life. We were soon sharing a practice space at what was then called Superior Street Studios, and he quickly struck me as a kind soul who could always hold it together, even in the throes of epic youthful partying on a scale that would defy the imaginations of the National Lampoon crew. My bands would often gig with his, including Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan and Ono (and on occasion I’d sit in with both). In January 2010 I booked his band Running for their first Empty Bottle show—their fourth show ever—with my old outfit Moonrises. He called me his “Libra brother.” He’s also the only human I’ve ever known who liked the 1970s Lancelot Link TV show—featuring overdubbed chimpanzees playing superspies—as much as I do.

Alejandro José Morales-Aponte was born October 3, 1974, in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, followed by brother Willo and sister Dianid. I intend to let other people who were close to Alex have the floor for much of this memorial, and it seems right to start with family. Willo says Alex taught himself to play guitar first, then percussion: “He told me one time that I’m the reason why he played the drums, because he remembered when I was taking drumming classes, and he always wanted to become a drummer since.” At some point, Willo says, Alejandro also learned violin.

“Alex’s nickname in middle school was ALF, because some kids thought his voice reminded them of ALF’s, and he ran with that,” Willo adds. “Alex once shot my saxophone teacher with a BB gun—it was an accident, but that ended up being my last saxophone lesson.”

Willo says Alex started his first band in the early 90s, when the punk, noise, ska, and grunge scenes were “on fire” in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. “Falta de Juicio, a psychedelic punk-rock band from our hometown, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico,” he says. “They played in some of the most popular music venues in Puerto Rico, including Longbranch in Aguadilla and La Tea in Old San Juan. Alex played guitar back then, not drums . . . yet!”

Alejandro Morales hangs with his dad and serenades a cat.Credit: Photos courtesy Patty Stell

The Morales family moved to Dunkirk, Indiana, in 1995, and then to Muncie when Alex started attending Ball State University later that year. At Ball State, Alex had his first stateside band, Spitshine. “They played in a lot of basement parties—those were a blast,” Willo says. “The whole town of Muncie was rocking in the late 90s with that punky, noisy noise that Alex and company loved.”

In early 2002, having graduated with a BA in American history three years before, Alejandro Morales moved from Muncie to Chicago. It didn’t take him long to become part of another rock band in the Windy City. In summer 2004, Morales joined the Rories—described as “political art brain noise punk” on their Pan y Rosas Discos label page—and switched to drums.

“I met him because he answered an ad for a drummer I placed in the Reader, and I’m so glad he did,” says Keith Helt, lead guitarist and singer of the Rories. They gigged at Permanent Records, Phyllis’ Musical Inn, Cal’s, AV-aerie, and even at the deceased Wrigleyville vintage shop Hollywood Mirror (I never saw a single band there in 25 years of visits, so that might be a unique distinction). The Rories had 13 releases through the Pan y Rosas netlabel, nine of them proper albums, including their excellent ’09 swan song, Defeat the Hydra, which has a skittery, postfunky Gang of Four vibe.

Alejandro with Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan cofounder Josue AguilarCredit: Photo by Travis of Ono

Morales might have started his long-running experimental project, Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan, shortly before he joined the Rories, but all anybody I talked to can say for sure is that it was around the same time. (Hey, if you can remember, you weren’t there, right?) PPPMMM was originally a duo of Morales and Josue Aguilar, who played a tabletop full of synths and other electronic doodads. “That was when Alex and I lived together, I wanna say mid- to late ’04,” Aguilar says. “We actually bonded while I was working at Sultan’s Market over his PiL shirt, and the fact that we were usually the only Latinx people at shows. He had an idea for a noise group, and he wanted me to help him flesh it out. We’d smoke a blunt, turn off all the lights, put the TV on a static station (he was all about the ambience), and record a jam session.”

  • Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan play an in-store set at Permanent Records in 2007.

PPPMMM played their first show at Hotti Biscotti—as best as anyone can recall, it was in early 2005—but Aguilar soon had to step away. “At that point I was working, in a relationship that took up much of my time, and already had a band that practiced twice a week,” he says. “But Alex wanted to keep things moving and Nicole was down, so they became the lineup.”

Nicole Miller was Morales’s sweetheart at the time, and she joined PPPMMM later in ’05. She explains the project’s unusual name: “Alex was the best man at his friend’s wedding,” she says. “The couple was arguing with each other, saying, ‘All you ever do is piss piss piss, moan moan moan.'”

Alejandro Morales and Nicole Miller of Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan at Bbigg Fforeverr on New Year’s Eve 2012Credit: Karina Natis

Miller and Morales created dystopian soundscapes of harsh noise, strange beats, and hot-wired electronics, but their stage presence was somehow strangely calming. They became ubiquitous on the DIY scene, steadily playing shows and churning out cassettes on labels such as Catholic Tapes and Dream Root Recordings. Morales took great pride in the fact that Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth painted the band’s name as part of “The Noise Paintings,” a 2010 New York exhibition whose press release described it as her “explorations using paint, lyrics, and personal catch phrases to create a collision of the verbal and the visual.” PPPMMM later used her painting as cover art for a cassette.

Aguilar stayed close to Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan—he toured with them in 2008 under the name It’s OK, sometimes joining them for the first part of their set—and eventually he rejoined the group. In 2013 or perhaps 2014, Aguilar remembers, Morales was helping him on a recording. “Nicole was still in town and they had all their gear out, and Alex was like, ‘Wanna jam?’—and that was pretty much my return,” Aguilar says. “I played with them for about a year before Nicole left. Then when they broke up, he asked me if I’d be willing to keep the project going, and I said of course.”

Aguilar enjoyed how cathartic it always was to make music with Morales. “What I loved about playing in PPPMMM was that the goal was always to have fun with it,” he says. “It took the pressure off of performing, and lent itself to creating instead.”

Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan in 2011 (left) and 2012Credit: Photos by Brian Jarreau (left) and courtesy Nicole Miller

Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan played several gigs with legendary Chicago avant-garde band Ono, which led to a series of collaborations beginning in the late 2000s. “Alex was in Ono from the first time I met him,” says band mastermind P. Michael Grego. “At least, he was in the Ono family and in our hearts. It was Arvo Zylo‘s fault that I was introduced to PPPMMM back in 2007 or ’08. Went to see Arvo when he was called Mister Fuckhead, and PPPMMM opened the show at the old Elastic Arts on Milwaukee. I remember two bodies on the stage, one male and one female—I think they were wearing wigs and sunglasses. There was a table full of electronics, something like a car battery or some type of generator, a homemade theremin, and a drum set. They made this hellacious noise. And then Alex hit the drums and did this Latin salsa beat to bring it all home. It was love at first sight.”

After the show, Grego and Morales had a long talk about Latin music, which morphed into a discussion of politics. “You see, Ono is political, and so is PPPMM,” Grego explains. “Since we met back in the day, Alex was always lurking at Ono shows and I was always lurking at PPPMMM shows, and Ono and PPPMMM collaborated many many times. We did many shows with a mix of the members of both bands, but whenever Ono needed Alex he was available to play with us. I can’t say it was anything formal, but it was family style.”

Grego especially treasures his memories of an Ono concert with Morales in New York City. “The show we did in NYC 2015 was a crazy 24 hours. It was set up as a last-minute showcase for Moniker Records, and so we put together a special Ono lineup and drove out to NYC. We were blessed to have a place to stay courtesy of Steve [Smith of End Result] and Tammie Smith—they owned a building in Brooklyn. And if you can imagine a large living-room space with Ono members, including Alex and Jimmy Whispers, who was also traveling with us in the van—it was a great time. Will never forget it.”

Alex with Ono members P. Michael Grego (left) and TravisCredit: Photo by Travis

Ono front man Travis speaks equally fondly of Morales and Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan, in his own unique style. “Alejandro and Nicole, already in preacher mines, instantly fit the P. Michael/Ono propagation upon introduction to Ono,” he says. “Global South. Easy for me to resist the ‘music’ terrain. Both within and without ‘noise’ paradigms. I’m in! All I got. Loud dinner table. Black-eye peas. Boneless breast. Greens. Red and white wine. Ono rehearsals at 2113. Serious Alejandro shine, bugle-throated mind. Hmm. How he use his Good Color? Real real spade! In my house and at every alt-Chicago basement, house, and garden stage. Housing activist sermonizing homeless creeks, meeting political beats in the Hideout street. Yep, he bad. Good Color think bad. Listen. Watch. Green room disagreement? Argument sealed with loud laugh. Sealed with a kiss. Alejandro cool always on fire, real fire. ‘Yo! Homie: Did you think about how shit change? Who steal the plates under Section 8?’ Good Color home again.”

The two bands’ live collaborations continued well into the 2010s, and in 2014 or so, the idea emerged for an EP by the combined group. It never came to fruition, but it got far enough along that Travis designed its front and back covers.

Travis’s covers for the never-realized collaborative EP by Ono and Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan

“Alejandro was a source of family warmth in the music community,” says Ono guitarist Dawei Wang. “Music is a healing source for trauma. Amidst the turbulence, the damage, and the tragedy of art, he was a point of calm, congeniality, and generosity of spirit. He made you feel truly welcome and accepted into our little family of trauma. I can only feel love, kindness, and gratitude when I think of Alejandro.”

In 2009, Morales started playing shows with his best-known band, Running, who were leading lights of the debaucherous-on-a-budget Chicago DIY scene for ages. On their “best” night (they were often a glorious mess, and took pride in that) these scum punks could conjure the shambolic skree of Flipper, the intensity of peak Black Flag, and the UK-style anarcho-blast of Zounds or Crass. Morales’s brother, Willo, suspects his family gave the band its name: “Rumor has it that they were named after my father’s passion for running marathons.”

Alex with Running at Situations for the first Rotted Tooth Fest in 2013Credit: Karina Natis

“Alex was my best friend and the reason I started playing music again 12 years ago,” says Running bassist and screamer Matthew Hord. “Running started because Alex and I met through Brett Naucke and Ben Billington in 2009. We became fast friends, probably because we were both nihilistic as hell and brutally dealt out sarcasm. At the time, I was just a graffiti-scene messenger shithead and wasn’t concerned with music beyond going to Mister City, People Projects, et cetera for shows. I had done some lackluster teenage hardcore punk bands and never really accomplished much with them beyond opening some bigger shows at Fireside in 2002 and 2003. I casually told Alex this while we were watching a noise show at the Mopery, and he suggested we start a punk band to play the noise shows. People would actually like our band, since we’d write songs! Insane and hilarious concept.”

  • Running live at the Empty Bottle in 2011

Morales soon recruited Jeff Tucholski to play guitar in Running. They’d met when the Rories played a show with Tucholski’s band Parsley Flakes, and they had scene friends in common through the Reversible Eye Gallery. “Maria Jenkins (of Hollows) and I moved to Chicago after graduating from Kent State,” Tucholski says. “We were doing this Devo/Crass anarcho-synth-punk band called Parsley Flakes in Ohio, and we kept doing the band in Chicago once we moved. Loto Ball had us out at the Reversible Eye once when we were still at Kent, and we had such a great time we set up shop in Chicago after college. Brandon Davis from Indian Jewelry was living at Reversible Eye at the time as well, and I know he and Alex were friends.”

Tucholski remembers the Rories as “sort of Television worship, or as Alex would say, ‘herky-jerky.'” They bonded immediately at their gig together. “We just hit it off like everyone does with Alex, and from there I think we just saw each other around at shows,” Tucholski recalls. “Parsley Flakes broke up, Maria and I broke up (we later got back together and got married, happy ending!), and I was doing my daily nightmare commute on the Chicago Avenue bus from my office near the MCA back to Ukrainian Village, and Alex happened to be on the bus. So we caught up and talked about what we were up to lately. He mentioned he had been jamming with someone (Hord) and wanted to know if I wanted to ‘start a hardcore punk band.’ I looked at him point-blank and said ‘No.’ Rest is history.”

Alejandro played with Running at the Mopery’s notorious final show in August 2010.Credit: Karina Natis

Running released a ton of DIY cassettes and singles as well as three proper albums: a self-titled full-length in 2010 on Permanent Records, followed by Vaguely Ethnic (2013) and Wake Up Applauding (2016), both on the Castle Face label run by John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees. The band didn’t just play in Chicago basements—they toured widely, sometimes even outside the Lower 48. “Mexico City was incredible,” Tucholski recalls. “Getting to play and see Puerto Rico with Alex and meet his dad was special. Rainbo and the final Mopery show are probably the most iconic Chicago shows. Many of Thee Oh Sees shows were pure smoke, and from a nostalgia standpoint the tours with Cave are some of my favorite memories.”

  • Running’s full-length debut (top) and tracks from their second and final albums

Running began their next phase when Hord left town. “I moved to NYC October 2, 2016, and Alejandro drove with me in a U-Haul—his birthday was at midnight,” he says. “We hung out with all our New York friends and flew back to Chicago together two days later. I drove back to NY, worked a week, and then we left for a west-coast tour together the week after. I couldn’t stay away from these guys, apparently.”

Tulcholski underlines that the band never broke up. “The three of us never had a fight in over ten years and rarely had disagreements,” he says. “We all just have adult lives, and Running was not economically sustainable as an enterprise. Hord got a great opportunity and followed it to New York. Alex and I were totally supportive; we just kept going on an abbreviated scale. Maria actually just landed a job in Cincinnati, and we bought a house down here and just moved. Again, no intention of that changing anything—we were just going to continue to squeeze in shows or tours or recording when we could. The level of mutual respect we all have for each other was incredible. The level of disrespect we had for others was also incredible.”

“The last show we played was the Glove’s last show in Brooklyn on August 24, 2019,” says Hord. “We actually have an unfinished LP and were planning on finishing it outside of the pandemic.”

Alex drums with Cookie at the Wicker Park Emporium Arcade Bar in 2016.Credit: Bobby Burg

Morales also maintained other local bands alongside Running. From the mid-2010s till his death, he played in Cookie, a group led by Marian Tsikalas. “For the past six years Alex has been a creative partner and drummer in my band Cookie,” she says. “When I was forming the band, I envisioned a kind of glam-rock/performance-art group, exploring such themes as subversion, mysticism, and debauchery. Alex seemed to understand immediately what I was going for, and I am forever grateful for his collaboration and playing drums; Cookie would not be what it is without Alex. His contributions to its success are beyond words.”

The postpunky Yagalith, a much newer group, consisted of Morales on drums, Keith Helt from the Rories and Matt Urban on guitars, and John Clark on bass. They released a rehearsal-space session via Bandcamp in April 2020, but sadly never finished a more formal recording. “We practiced as we were able with quarantine restrictions and stuff,” Helt says. “We were planning on starting up again regularly after Alex got back from Puerto Rico. I don’t know how commonly these things arise in life, but he was totally my telepathic music partner. When we played, we each knew what the other was going to do and when. I totally trusted him in the moment. I’m selfishly missing/mourning that aspect.”

It’s impossible to list all the hats Morales wore, but he also DJed a regular night playing nothing but his favorite band, the Fall, which he kept up from June 2016 till early 2019. Bobby Burg of Love of Everything and Joan of Arc, who helped run the Smiths Night at Danny’s, caught wind of it. “I heard from Matthew Hord that Alejandro had been DJing only the Fall as ‘Smith’s Night’ right around the same time we were ending our own Smiths Night,” Burg says. He decided to invite Morales to take over an installment of the Danny’s series. “He was very enthusiastic—how insane was it he has every Fall record, and we’re going to listen to them on the Danny’s system? I was convinced we were going to win over all the regular Smiths Night crowd.”

That didn’t come to pass, but Burg has no regrets. “I can still hear Alejandro explaining the punch line. ‘It’s Mark E. Smith’s Night! It’s his night,'” he says. “Plus you would just add an apostrophe to the board, which is genius!”

Alejandro Morales at “Mark E. Smith’s Night” at Danny’s in 2017Credit: Bobby Burg

Morales also hosted a long-running radio show called Alien Lanes, named after an album by one of his other favorite bands, Guided by Voices. It was broadcast by Que4 Radio, a Chicago-based Internet-only station that’s part of a media and arts organization devoted to reflecting and uplifting the city’s diversity and providing opportunities for young people of color. Morales worked at the station in his spare time, using his accounting skills to help its parent organization transition to nonprofit status and eventually becoming its treasurer.

Morales had day jobs, of course—he’d earned an MBA in accounting at the Keller Graduate School of Management, and since early 2018 he’d been putting it to use at the Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, a Chicago nonprofit working to increase the availability and accessibility of affordable housing. Morales was employed there as an accountant at the time of his passing, and the nonprofit has released a statement: “While many in Chicago knew [Alex] for his music, we knew him as someone who embodied our mission and supported our work,” it reads in part. “He fought for our communities against gentrification, injustice, inequality, and inequity.”

Morales’s activist inclinations dovetailed with the enthusiasm and affection he brought to the underground music scene. P. Michael Grego from Ono picked up on it at a glance when he first saw Morales play a show: “Based on all of Alex’s stickers and buttons on PPPMMM equipment, I surmised he was a community activist and did social work with the disenfranchised, which was something we had in common as I worked as a social worker too,” Grego says. “We were familiar with each other’s agencies, so political activism was something we regularly discussed, and when he was looking for work I recommended some social-work positions I knew of here and there.”

Whitney Johnson, who sings and plays viola, keyboard, and harmonium as Matchess, finds all of Morales’s commitments inspiring. “He’s in a world of music all night, then back at work in the morning organizing communities, fighting gentrification, a vital force day and night,” she says. “Talking with him about social injustice leaves me feeling mobilized instead of powerless.”

Most of Morales’s professional attachments allowed him to push for what he saw as a more just world. “He worked plenty of shitty odd jobs, but most notably worked for the Resurrection Project for many years—a grassroots organization that helps assist immigrants with affordable housing,” says guitarist and songwriter Ryley Walker, who lived with Morales on and off for six years. “He cared deeply about their mission. He was a huge advocate for public service and the rights of people who needed help.”

Morales worked for the nonprofit Resurrection Project, which also helps immigrants learn their rights, navigate the legal system, and develop financial literacy, from 2007 till 2013. From 2014 till 2015, he served as vice president of the board at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Hermosa, which fights to preserve Puerto Rican culture. And before he took his job at Bickerdike, he worked for the San Jose Obrero Mission from 2015 till 2016. Morales’s LinkedIn page, which is still up, describes his role there: “My efforts were primarily focused on ending homelessness,” he wrote, explaining that the SJOM works to “lead homeless families and individuals to a path to self-sufficiency by providing shelter and case management focused on career coaching, life skills training, referral and follow-up services.”

“Alex was good to all his friends and was proud of his work advocating for low-income housing,” says Walker. “He was superhuman and had a huge heart. When I’d travel abroad and tell another band I was from Chicago, I’d often get, ‘Do you know Alejandro?'”

Walker also remembers what it was like being roommates with Morales. “He played harsh noise records early in the morning. He always had the TV playing The Simpsons on mute,” he says. “He could cook rice perfectly. He said it was in his blood. He fucking loved Papa John’s pizza and always had an extra in the fridge. He loved show posters and covered the walls floor to ceiling in them. His visual art and portraits were his best-kept secret. A brilliant and fried artist. He listened to everybody and gave a shit. He gave more than he took in every instance of life. Completely selfless. This hurts and everything is weird and fucked-up without him. I loved him so much.”

Sam Henry, aka Plastic Boner Band, demonstrates his affection for Alejandro at Mortville in 2012.Credit: Karina Natis

Avant-garde singer Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux echoes Walker’s sentiments. “Alejandro was a walking holiday. He had the ability to see the best in others and make sure they felt it in themselves. He showed me how to harness the celebration in the room, and how to make others feel seen,” she says. “With the pandemic and the passing of Alex, I feel the spine of the art sect of Chicago fracture and split indefinitely. It will surely be years of mending toward a world which will never be the same.”

Whitney Johnson describes Morales in similarly glowing terms. “His searchlight spirit finds people who are uncomfortable, lonely, or out of place,” she says. “He’s laughing with someone who is troubled. Musicians are oozing or hiding feelings—Alex carries an extra portion for both of us.”

“The same Alex who raised puppies in Indiana can also weave a playful barb into any conversation, keeping us on our toes with lightening, lightning wit,” she continues. “Did he just say that name wrong? He is very wise. Very loved and loving. Very nice, smart, sensitive, kind, generous, interested, gentle, funny, creative, youthful, witty, energetic, dynamic, sweet, thrilling, tender, gifted, clever, insightful, and joyful. Alex is so much of the joy in the world, a bigger sense of being alive. I miss him very much, amiguito de mi alma. In fact that’s the last text between us. We said we miss each other, and he called me ‘amiguita de mi alma.'”

Rocker and Reader contributor Luca Cimarusti, who drums in Luggage and recently launched the solo black-metal project Annihilus, recalls what happened when the news about Morales’s death began to spread. “I got texts and phone calls coming in about Alejandro from literally coast to coast. I talked to people from New York, down south, the Pacific Northwest, southern California. I think that really says so much about Alejandro,” he says. “Anywhere he went, he touched someone, connected with people, made immediate meaningful friendships. He was a magnetic person—absolutely hilarious at all times, beyond passionate about music, had a genius-level intellect, was warm and loving to all, and was by far the most loyal and caring friend you could ever imagine having.”

Alejandro at the Empty Bottle (far right) with Permanent Records co-owner Lance Barresi, Bottle and Bite staffer Ash Dye, and Trouble in Mind cofounder Bill RoeCredit: Bobby Burg

Electronic musician Brett Naucke met Morales in 2007, and they immediately became close. “I’ve never known anyone like Alejandro Morales,” he says. “If I added up all of the craziest stories of my life, the most subtle and meaningful times, the times I laughed the hardest, 99 percent of them were facilitated by him.”

“He introduced me to literally hundreds of people. He showed me hundreds of great records. He showed me around Puerto Rico,” Naucke continues. “He came to every show I ever played. He made sure to be there for every one of my birthdays. I was lucky to travel a great deal with him, spend nights at his house and have him cook me breakfast, spend consecutive holidays together making food and drinks all day for years and years, and I truthfully can’t imagine a world without him in it.”

Thrash-metal freaks Oozing Wound immortalized Alejandro with “Call Your Guy,” a tune from their 2013 debut on Thrill Jockey, Retrash. “Alejandro Morales was one of the funniest and brightest people I have ever met,” says guitarist Zack Weil. “He was instantly captivating and a calming presence, giving off an aura that he was untouchable. The man’s voice was lyrical and infectious. The joy one would have recalling him saying ‘homie’ brought a warmth that I can’t really even equate to anything else. The fact that the memory of his voice will now always be tinged in sadness is so painful. He was beloved by everyone. He was ingenious with his wit, and absolutely the life of the party wherever he went.”

Alejandro and his friend Mariapaz Camargo cohosted the annual Chili-Synthesizer Cook-off at the Empty Bottle a couple years running. At left, they’re in costume for the 2017 show; the photo on the right is from a scheming session for the 2016 cook-off.Credit: Photos courtesy Mariapaz Camargo

Weil took inspiration from Morales’s bands too. “Watching his rise as a musician was like watching yourself get better,” he says. “Those early Running sets where he would run out of steam and stand up screaming before sitting back down again and bashing the shit out of the cymbals before collapsing made me feel a kind of happiness that I don’t know how to adequately explain. I’m struggling to recall all of this in the past tense, knowing full well that the ‘return to normal’ and the music scene coming back is now forever lost. We are all irrevocably broken from this.”

Josh Condon of mellow groovers Glyders remembers meeting Morales around ten years ago at his first proper gig, when his one-man band shared a bill with Running at the Heorot in Muncie, Indiana, near where he grew up. “I had never met these guys, but I heard a lot about Alex from when he went to school there at Ball State,” he says. “He was this sort of mysterious legend I would frequently hear about around town. Anyway, come load-in time I really got to see the celeb in action. Everybody knew this dude, and the rest of the night was filled with hugs and smiles, you know, Alejandro style. Hanging postshow is when we really got to kick it. He was stoked on my set and really encouraged me to keep it up. We stayed in touch and I moved to Chicago a couple years later.”

Morales touched musicians outside the weirdo-rock and noise undergrounds too. “Alejandro was the best dang dude,” says Lawrence Peters, the unofficial king of Chicago country. “He was friendly, funny, welcoming, and raucous. A solid and wild drummer who genuinely loved music, and his excitement for it raised the energy level at every show we played or attended. The guy burned brightly, and his loss has left a broken heart in everyone who had the good fortune to be his friend.”

Alejandro Morales at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2015Credit: Bobby Burg

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I couldn’t help but think of George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life while writing this piece and thinking so much about Morales’s impact on so many. I pictured a nightmare alternate reality where Morales had never existed—bands never formed, friendships never blossomed, community programs never benefited from his knowledge and skill. I found myself feeling like ol’ George, coming back to the bridge he’d been about to jump from, having been shown the diminishment of the world without him. Except what I wanted to yell at the sky was about Alex, not myself: “I want him to live!”

The memorial for Alejandro Morales outside the Empty BottleCredit: Alison Green

Cimarusti summed it up when he talked to Reader contributor J.R. Nelson last week. “Alex crammed so much fun and fearless living into his life, never regretting or missing out on anything,” he said. “If everyone lived even a tiny bit more like him, I think we’d all be a lot happier.”

But this kindly and seemingly indestructible instigator has somehow left this plane. He was visiting family in Puerto Rico at the time of his passing, and we don’t even know what happened yet. It seems impossible that Morales is gone, but his legacy will stay with us. The relationships, advocacy work, and art he created will be eternal—because none of us will ever forget him.  v

Credit:
Alison Green