Monday, October 22, 2007

Nostalgic For Nothing

This morning I heard that Lance Hahn of J Church passed away due to complications related to kidney failure. I had met Lance back in the early ‘90s when he lived in San Francisco. The Ear of the Dragon compilation came out and a lot of attention was being focused on Asian American rock, a fraternity that Lance helped bring attention to. J Church were deceptively smart punk poppers, drawing upon Lance’s roots as an anarcho punk and his deep love of cinema, art and music. He could also break it down at the emotional level, connecting to issues of the heart. The sticker on his guitar said it all: “Overthrow cockrock and worship your girlfriend.”

Being a music writer and JA in the ‘90s, this was a good time to discuss issues of race, music, stereotypes and upbringing as well as bond with interesting people over good food. So I think the majority of memories I have of Lance involve food and music. We sat down for a proper interview in 1995. I remember thinking how open and frank he was. We talked about major labels, touring with Beck (he beat out a stable to tour as Beck’s guitarist during Mellow Gold), Hawaii, Faye Wong. He was obsessed with Faye Wong, so much he wrote a sweet song about her.

Since then, we remained on friendly terms. They’d play an occasional show in the South Bay and I’d roll out to see them. Another time was when Giant Robot magazine held a concert with Seam, Korea Girl and J Church in their warehouse. We drove down for that. I remember Lance thinking how clever he was for playing the Smiths cover “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Faye Wong” right next to each other. I have the set list packed away somewhere. Lance could hold a conversation about any possible topic, and be fully informed and hilarious at the same time.

My last memory of Lance is seeing him blow through a hardcore set at SXSW in 2005. He was so deeply entrenched in the music, which had turned ultra-political (naturally, given his temperament and the general state of the U.S.) and loud as heck. I was happy seeing J Church operating on full blast and left stoked he was still rocking hard.

So when I heard of him passing this morning, after long illnesses and no health insurance, I was sad but also glad that his painful ordeal had ended. I was also comforted that every time I saw him, he was living life to its fullest. He had done so many great things, toured the world, made great music, touched many people’s lives. This morning, a work colleague who knew Lance passed me a zip file of J Church songs. I couldn’t listen. It was too soon to process Lance’s distant voice in my work headphones. Plus his death also had me thinking about my own mortality. Like, a musician of my generation died? Holy crap!

Tonight, though, I put on Nostalgic for Nothing after dinner. Maceo was playing with his cars and when he heard the drums kick in during “My Favorite Place” he got all excited and started dancing. This went on for “Ivy League College” and “Tide of Fate.” Soon I was lifting him up and down and he was having a heckuva time wilding out to songs about silver-spoonfed kids wearing t-shirts that say “Lick Bush.” It was all quite surreal, as if Lance was reaching out to remind me: look for the humor in life because it’s all around you.

Thanks, Lance. Godspeed.


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