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Rock in a hard place
Eamonn Vittís post-Karate career
BY JONATHAN PERRY

Two months ago, as he was headed out the door to make the trek from New York City to Cambridge, where he was scheduled to open for his old bandmates downstairs at the Middle East, ex-Karate guitarist-turned-solo-songwriter Eamonn Vitt had to face the kind of decision that rarely confronts rock musicians. Twenty-four hours earlier, he says, " I got a call from my boss that one of my patientís water broke and she was going into labor. She was a little older and this was her first baby, so the labor can take a long time. So right now, Iím technically on call. " With the hours ticking down to the show, where Dr. Vitt would be supporting the release of his full-length solo debut, Deserted Music (Self-Starter Foundation), he had a choice to make: stay in NYC to deliver the baby or hit the road for Cambridge to play the gig.

Having placed his pregnant patient safely in the hands of another on-call physician, Vitt was in good spirits as we talked over a couple of beers at ZuZu an hour before the Middle East show. Itís not that his patients arenít important, he insisted; itís just that " musicís really important to me too. Even as a doctor, music keeps me mentally healthy and happy. So, you have to draw a limit: your patients are going to want you and need you 24 hours a day, but you have to learn how to take care of yourself. Otherwise youíre gonna be jaded and youíre going to end up despising your work. "

It was Vittís interest in medicine that impelled him to walk away from Karate, a successful indie-rock band he and his friends Geoff Farina and Gavin McCarthy formed in the early 1990s. With Vitt on guitar, Karate released several singles and EPs, and a pair of full-length albums on the Chicago independent label Southern. But for some of the same reasons heíd gravitated toward music to begin with, Vitt felt himself being pulled away toward a very different life. He says that he thought a lot about his adolescence growing up in South Jersey and road-tripping to Washington to soak up that cityís politically minded hardcore scene. " Karate was amazing, but at that time, I donít know, I just needed to do something more political. And to me, medicine seemed like a political act. I was brought up with the idea that youíve got to put your energies toward helping people. "

Vitt adds that his mother is a former nun. In 1997, then, he quit Karate to study medicine at Columbia. Music remained an important part of his life, however. When he took a Columbia-affiliated health-care post on a Zuñi Indian reservation in New Mexico, he drove cross-country cranking the Pixies the whole way. Stowed in the back were his guitar and his four-track. During the six weeks he spent living in a trailer while practicing family medicine, pediatric care, and whatever was thrown at him, he also began to put some of the songs he had been writing to tape.

The initial result was a solo EP, Old Wave New Ride (also Self-Starter), that was released in 2001. It set the tender, scuffed tone for the new Deserted Music, which can be heard as an aural document of his travels, both physical and emotional. " Followed " mentions leaving " the band " and living with " ghosts " he canít quite shake. " Left at Gallup " echoes Neil Young and even refers to " old Cortez the Killer " while recalling the lonesome experience of being an East Coast outsider submerged among the indigenous Zuñi peoples. " Feeling so secluded, " Vitt howls against the insistent strum of an electric guitar, " till a classic radio breaks it down to frequencies I know. "

Deserted Musicís spare mix of acoustic and electric guitars, light percussion, and haunted vocals, along with the occasional harmonica fill or piano chord, gives the disc a comfortable, homemade feel that seems to reflect the role music continues to play in Vittís life. Meanwhile, his life as a doctor continues to place him in challenging situations. On September 11, in fact, he was in downtown NYC mixing Deserted Music. After he saw the first jet soar past him, he headed to the nearest hospital, where he donned his white coat and prepared to help. He spent the days following the tragedy sleeping on a makeshift hospital cot near Ground Zero, " trying to persuade firefighters to take a break after working 15 hours straight. " True to form, though, the music he wrote and recorded in the aftermath of that ordeal represents " a respite from the horror rather than a rehashing of it. "

Issue Date: May 2 - 8, 2003
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