Sunday, April 4, 2010

J Church: The Ecstasy of Communication

Lance Hahn died almost three years ago. When I think of Lance, and I often do, a thousand things come to mind: post-modernism, kidney disease, Maximumrocknroll, record shopping, Hawaii, Tikki Tikki Tembo, The East Bay, Lookout Records, black and white anarchists, Winnie the Pooh, feminism, E.L.O., “The Churchies” and of course a recklessly torrent of vinyl that caused Lance himself to utter, “A lot of people write trying to keep track of all the fucking records we put out. I can't even remember."

I go through musical phases. I obsess over artists with a fanatic devotion to their own peculiar worldview, often at the expense of precise musicianship and commercial gain, people like TV Smith, Vic Bondi, Dr. Frank and as evidenced by this blog hundreds more . While such artists work with chords and couplets, they seem like novelists to me because of the narrative weight of their oeuvre.These obsessions of mine wax and wane and years later I’ll sit up and say, “Didn’t I own TV Smith’s first solo album and then sell it?” I've had a few Lance phases. The first was when I first fell under the spell of Lookout Records (I still have that yellow catalog when Lawrence Livermore said of the first Green Day single, “If this is "pop" then I say "yay!" let's fill up the top 40 airwaves with it”). Lance’s band, Cringer, had begun a stunning run of singles (the less said about their lone album – named after the touching children's story Tikki Tikki Tembo - the better) all of which I tracked down.

I saw Cringer in Minneapolis opening for Citizen Fish (Dick Lucas of the Subhumans, Culture Shock and Citizen Fish is another of those fanatically devoted artists). Lance and I ended up going record shopping together with some other Minneapolis folk. At Oarfolkjokeopus (take that spell check!) Lance bought an LP by The Ex and some metal album (though maybe I’m just remembering the Iron Maiden patch on his jean jacket). Lance proved to be another record geek and we all laughed the afternoon away.

I followed Lance's next group, J Church (still a pop-punk band but Pixiefied), at first but got lost in the discographical perversity. After the slow-grower Quetzalcoatl and the weaker Prophylaxis, I came to the glib conclusion that Lance was a singles artist. In a review for a now-forgotten band, Lance confessed that he’d been trying to write the perfect pop song (a dangerous confession in the pages of the staunchly underground Maximumrocknroll). I thought, “Really?” Then came (for me), the one-two punch of the over-stuffed singles comp, Nostalgic for Nothing (which held some of the greatest songs of that era period) and the first of the “British” albums, Arbor Vitae. Here was Lance (and his long-time partner Gardner) reaching for that perfection. Of course they missed but their greatest failures were filled with blazes of noise, which would all of a sudden melt away and reveal a shining chorus awash in melancholy and analysis. I stocked up on all those J Church album. (Appropriately, I bought up a stack on a visit to Berkley). Then the disappointing One Mississippi and the silences that followed Lance’s health problems caused me to lose track once again. Another singles comp (Meaty, Beatty, Shitty Sounding) brought Lance back into focus, as did the news that his health was failing.

I’ve never converted too many people to J Church but one friend fell in love with Cat Food another of those "British" album (it's the Brits who, for no clear reason, nicknamed them 'The Churchies') . That friend suffers from “kidney problems” as well. Except he has lived most of his life with no functioning kidneys at all. Space, and decency, do not allow for a description of the horrors of surgeries, dialysis and the wrenching decision to take the transplant. Of that, thus-far unsuccessful transplant, he remarked, with characteristic understatement, “Having a kidney is overrated.” Those blood infections that took Lance haunt my friend as well and our visits are rare and brief - we listen to music (sometimes it's those E.L.O. covers from Meaty, Beatty…) and talk in digressions. I hope he’ll get to hear some J Church today. And you will too and maybe you’ll lend a hand to Lance’s family and one of your own friends who is ailing.

In the image below Lance himself explains the nature of this long out-of-print compilation:

Link for J Church: The Ecstasy of Communication is in the Comments

Speaking of comments, What's your favorite Lance song or moment?

Support Lance's Legacy: J Church Homepage J Church MySpace J Church at No Idea J Church at Interpunk J Church at Amazon J Church at Wikipedia J Church at Discogs We Love Lance Hahn page
Lance Hahn obit at Pop Matters



  2. Favorite song: Definitely "Band you love to hate".

    Favorite moment: Supporting JChurch with my band, asking Lance if we could do our cover of said song and him responding: "Sure, as we don't play it anymore, you can keep it, It's yours."

    I miss the guy.

  3. I agree with everything you said about Cringer and J-Church and followed the same arc as a fan. They had some amazing songs, and then they had some bland stuff. However, their good songs were great.

    My band also played with J-Church once. There was no one there because there was a big ice storm that night, so everyone stayed home. Still it was awesome to see them play, and Lance was a super nice guy. I remember feeling really sad when he died. I had been a fan for so long, and when I heard that he died- it felt really tragic. I listened to nothing but J-Church and Cringer for a week straight. It reminded me of how great some of their stuff was. I was always surprised that more people didn't get into them.

    It is hard to pick my favorite J-Church song....I like "Bomb" alot and "Hate So Real" is pretty good. "Cigarette Kill" The song "Commodity" is o.k. but it has one of my favorite J-Church parts to it the part in and around the lyrics "I am here proof of an existence."

    I don't know if I could pick a favorite song, but "Camels, Spilled Coronas and the Sound of Mariachi Bands" is my favorite album. Easily.

    Thanks for the post.


  4. I was a Cringer fan from the first time I heard them. I was saddened greatly when they 1) never played in D/FW and 2) ceased. At hearing that J Church was "the new" band of some of the Cringer people I rejoiced. I for some reason never heard them until I saw them play with Rancid and Angel Hair in Dallas during the summer of '94. I remained unsatisfied. I expected so much more than they offered. In the since years I have come around a bit but still Cringer remains a favorite and J Church a conversational moment. Thanks for this post, perhaps this is the time my opinion changes. . .

  5. Anon
    What was the name of your band (any group that chooses such a fucking great cover is surely worth a mention!

    Damn I'm repeating myself here but you guys can't just day 'my band' without naming names - we're all about obscurity here don't be so humble.
    And thanks for adding a cool Lance vignette -he always seems to come out the nice guy in these stories).

    Angel Hair-Rancid-J Church - the 90's were so weird sometimes. But man give J Church a chance. While I love Cringer ("Pen" is close to my fave all-time Lance song) J Church had more great songs than Cringer (though in all fairness they also had more shitty ones).

  6. Jeffen-

    :) I didn't say the name of my band because- I really don't think anyone ever heard of us, unless you lived in the Fox Valley or Madison area of Wisconsin during 1997-1999.

    Anyway, we were called Saint Louis. We were on a comp. on NO Karma records, did a 7" and then did a self released CD.


  7. Nick
    You're right I never heard the name but it's still good to know. Have you put any of the music on-line? I'd like to hear seem of it.

  8. "One Mississippi" is REALLY good! I can't imagine it being called disappointing! It's probably my favorite J Church album.

  9. Coixt Records
    Maybe the long-wait did me in but I also felt the album was too long and not as hooky as some of their albums. I always re-visit albums from my favourite bands, so I will go back to it sooner or later.

  10. J Church is my favorite band so I find it hard to pick a favorite Lance song... Petrograd, Mariachi Bands and Satanist Convene is a narrow as I can get. Thinking of hearing those last two along with Bomb and Nostalgic for Nothing played live on the last tour still gives me shivers. At the show I complained to Lance that the last album still wasn't out. He told me the no idea folks had just had twins and showed me a Cilantro tape buried in the merch table. I bought the tape and thought "what a nice guy."

  11. Anon
    There are too many great Lance songs. When I originally posted this I had made a comp called "Lance Hahn for Beginners" that covered Cringer/J Church songs but decided to go for an official, if out-of-print, one this time around.

    I'm glad you saw them right bear the end!


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