Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maximumrocknroll #296 January 2008 Lance Hahn RIP

Back in the early 90s I played guitar in a band in Glasgow. We wrote some songs and played some gigs and did some demos, and as is the way these things happen we got around to recording and self-releasing an LP. We'd been writing and working on our songs over the course of about two years. Besides our regular weekly practices, the bassist Angus and I met up several times a week just to play our parts together, over and over. Finally it came time to record the album. We booked two consecutive weekends at a new studio that some friends of ours had just opened. Our friend Richie (local hero and drummer in Dawson, the Stretch Heads, Fenn, and now DeSalvo) was at the mixing desk. We worked long into the night, recording and mixing fourteen songs with minimal overdubbing. Listening back to it now it's not the greatest album in the world but I think we were pretty proud of it at the time. An artist friend, Tim Goldie, designed the cover art, and we had the record cut at Porky's in London.
When we got the records back I don't think we could quite believe we'd made an album (I also don't think Angus could quite believe he'd got himself into so much debt, either). Naturally, we send copies to MRR for review. Around the time I thought the issue with the review would come out, I would go down to Tower Records (the only place in Glasgow still stocking Maximumrocknroll regularly at the time, I don't think anywhere does now) to see if it had come in yet.
After a couple of weeks of checking there was finally a new issue on the rack. I flicked furiously to the review section, scanning for our band name... nope. Not in this issue. I waited another agonizing month until it was time to start obsessively checking the newsstands again. At last, the new issue arrived, and there it was: our review. Surely this masterpiece we'd created would take MRR by storm, earning us rave reviews and coveted top-ten placings, skyrocketing us to the stardom we so obviously deserved? I skimmed the review: "sorta like FUEL, but sped up to hardcore and without the melody... "; "like straight edge kids grown up and gone to art school..." The reviewer didn't say he hated the record, but it didn't sound like he liked it, either. Who was this cloth-eared critic, who obviously had no taste and probably hated music, or at least didn't understand it? At the end of the review, those telltale initials: (LH)
Later when I moved to San Francisco and knew Lance personally I gave him shit about the review. Of course, he didn't remember it, but he did remember a time around MRR where the culture was such that there was almost a competition between reviewers to see who could write the meanest reviews. In that context I suppose Glue got off lightly. Lance's review certainly wasn't the worst one we ever received. Coincidentally, he also later introduced me to his roommate Jim, a member of Fuel with whom I ended up trying to start a band. We never really got it going but whenever I would go round to their apartment Lance would be in his room with the door closed, playing guitar. I remember hearing him play along to Queen and being impressed. For a guy in a punk band, he could actually play guitar.
Despite Lance's long-term health problems, the news that he had fallen into a coma and subsequently passed away seemed to take everyone by surprise. You just felt like he'd always be around, you know? There'd always be another J Church split 7" coming down the line, or another article about some long forgotten anarcho band. Even though I'd been following his regular email updates about his medical travails, I just figured he'd get better. He was only 40 for crying out loud. I can't help thinking he'd still be here if the American healthcare system wasn't so fucked.
Although Lance was obviously poor, had no health insurance, and had to work a shitty video store job to support himself, over the course of his short life he released dozens (hundreds?) of records, performed countless shows all over the world, made friends in every city and country he went to, and had made serious headway on what was shaping up to be a great book. He lived his life the way he wanted to. He was still taking his band out on tour and making records in the midst of his debilitating health problems. It's safe to say he didn't die thinking "I wish I'd worked that 9-to-5 office job instead." It's just criminal that his life was cut so tragically short.
The day after Lance died the word went out about a possible gathering of his old friends somewhere in the Mission. In a flurry of emails, message board posts, text messages and phone calls it was finally deduced that yes, the gathering was happening. 9pm at the top of Dolores Park, near where the J Church streetcar passes by. A few old Epicenter and former (and current) MRR workers hung out at a bench, drank a beer or two, and traded Lance stories. It was pretty low key. No one could figure out who instigated the event and no one took responsibility. It was decided that Tim Yohannan probably organized it. After I said goodbye to everyone I walked down the hill to my car and got in. I turned the key and the radio burst into life with a KUSF DJ playing a J Church song.

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