I asked Ross’s close friend Chris Smith to write something about this song. Here is what he sent to me:
“Nine times out of ten, Ross would be wearing headphones wherever he went in 2004. That is when I first met him, and I have zero recollection of how. One day I didn’t know him and the next we were sitting on the couch in my place on Harrison St, the sweaty and cigarette-smoke-choked foam of his headphones squeezing my ears and stinging my nose, as Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs began coursing through my eardrums. “You gotta hear this Chris… it will blow your mind!” And it did.
Nine times out of ten, neither of us would remember what we said to each other the night before. We instantly bonded over eccentric pop, Olde English forties, Arrested Development and partying. We’d dance to Magnetic Fields after gathering all our loose change to buy 40s, because a 40oz and cigarettes really was our idea of living, and we both were fantastic at hitting the ceiling.
One evening I visited the apartment shared by Ross and Teddy and in between pours of cheap bourbon, Ross pulled out his MacBook and hit spacebar. I began to hear my first Ballpoint Pens song. Crunchy guitars bled into the double-stacked vocals and literal ballpoint pens used as drumsticks, rapping on a desk for percussion. It was, sonically, everything that Ross and I loved. As the guitars vamped to this glorious Brendon Benson-meets-Fountains of Wayne refrain at the end, I looked at him and asked, “Can my band cover this?!?! Its brilliant!”
Fast forward to a blurry night at a Richmond dive bar just days later and my band Rabbits started the introductory chords. Within seconds, Ross was on stage with his arm around me, our boozy breath braiding the air around a shared mic as we screamed the lyrics together. He’d kiss me on the cheek at the end of the song and we would party into the night. It was everyone’s favorite song at every show we ever played.
We grew up. We grew apart. Rabbits broke up. The girl I met around the same time I met Ross became my wife — I owe much of that relationship to Ross.
Years later, my band would get back together once more, to perform “nine times out of ten” on a night to celebrate the life of our dear friend. I didn’t have to fight for space around the microphone this time. After the song ended, my cheek went un-kissed. Ross was gone.
I am in recovery now. I often wonder what it would be like if Ross could have gotten sober with me. Instead, I have this song. It remains the perfect snapshot of our time together – blurry, messy, euphoric, romantic, silly, and always laid on top of some undercurrent of self-deprecating anxiety and booze-fueled escapism. A haphazard collage of makeshift sounds that round the edges of a sharp statement on how lonely life as an addict can be. I just wish I could have told him then that he wasn’t alone.”
Listen to the Rabbits cover of “nine times out of ten.”