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