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October 23rd, 2007

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08:22 am - Lance Hahn 1967-2007
I never really understood Lance's songwriting until I listened to radio in Hawai'i. Island reggae, Hawai'ian pop, and other Hawai'ian songs have a sense of history. There are lots of elements that, out-of-context, I might find sappy or overly nostalgic. But they not only work with those songs, they are crucial elements to the genre.

Lance's songs, especially the Cringer and early J Church ones, had that same element. I'm nostalgic and sappy by nature, mind you, so they always appealed to me. But there was no real punk genre for it. His bands mirrored his personality more than most songwriters I know. Both Cringer and J Church were intellectual but friendly, political but approachable, fun but taking themselves seriously. Unlike many of the bands Lance (and I) admired, his lyrics were never preachy. He always sang as one of us, not to us.

"Sometimes I wanna go back
Sometimes to the beginning
Sometimes I wouldn't change a thing.
Sometimes the things I've done, It seems like martyrdom
Sometimes it doesn't mean a thing
Don't wanna,
Won't be sad
Like the sailors
Of Petrograd

Lance was a sweetheart. Everyone who's written about his death so far has called him "one of the good ones". He could get away with writing lyrics like those, which could easily be read as pretentious on paper, because his personality came through in his singing. He wasn't comparing himself to the theory of the Great Revolutionary, he was connecting through history to the emotions of the people he admired and wanted to relate to. Ones who died anonymously in service to their beliefs but who were just ordinary working folks doing what they felt was right..

He'd also just probably read an Alexander Berkman book and wanted to write a song about it. He was always reading.

Lance was an auto-didact, a student of history, especially anarchist history. I mean geez, he even put Leon Czolgosz, unlabeled, on a J Church shirt. He was also sweet, kind, thoughtful, and quietly funny. He knew how to make people feel good but more than that, he cared about making people feel good. He carried a million details in his brain, surprising you with something you said offhand at some show or some party months before. He was a special, special man.

Lance lived above me on Valencia St, half a block from Epicenter Zone. Lance's apartment was referred to as jokingly "The Crash Pad" after an SF Weekly reporter dubbed it that in an article.* Our apartment was already name "House of Failure" because our phone number was 552-FAIL. Oh, those early '90s…

Here's Lance on our back stairs watching some illegal punk show we put on in our backyard when the 1st floor tenants went out of business. 1993
failure stairs071

It seems symbolic that many of his songs remind me of our shared neighborhood. Early J Church is so time and place for me: all songs about the Mission in the early '90s., While traveling out of the Bay Area for an extended period, and leaving from my apartment on Mission St , "November" made me cry while riding a train through Eastern Europe. I had made a Mission District bands cassette and as soon as he mentioned rain on Mission St, I started bawling.

"As the rain falls hard, it fills the cracks on Mission St…"
"No matter who you are, you feel the same when you're wet, cold and alone…"
"We only dream to float downstream, reminded by the rain,
Tied to a tree, cannot break free, reminded by the rain"

It's a sad song about rain making people feel alone, but it does the typical Lance thing. He empathizes with strangers and tries to find a human truth. This un-self-conscious sappiness is a unifying force in Lance's songs. Even the punks have to admit their fuzzy feelings sometimes. It kept his lyrics, no matter how political, from being as dogmatic and alienating as a lot of the other anarcho-punks.

I think my favorite thing about Lance was just running into him in the street. I can think of hours spent on Market/14th, at 16th/Valencia, in front of Lost Weekend, just gossiping, talking about bands, demonstrations and friends. He made this city a better place by just being around, having time to hang out. He also rarely missed a demonstration. He had good priorities even if rather than being in front with a bullhorn he's be bringing up the rear, poking fun at the sectarians and trying-too-hard anarchist kids. I think he'd appreciate that my favorite picture of him was from the San Francisco Rodney King riots. Hip-hoppers and punks were unified in their desire to liberate electronics to facilitate their communication with a hostile world. Somewhere, maybe his room, I saw a picture of Lance coming out of an electronics store with his hands full and his eyes blacked out, like any punk wouldn't recognize his long hair, his slouch and his band t-shirt. Or maybe I just made up that picture in my head.

Lance still seems like a San Francisco icon 7 years after moving to Texas.

My oddest Lance moment was probably seeing him play guitar for Beck at Slim's. It was near the height of Beck's post-"Loser" glory. If I remember correctly, he knew Beck from playing at some German squat show together back in the day, but I could have jumbled up that memory. Anyways, he put me on the guest list, possibly because no one else we knew wanted to see Beck cuz he was like, all popular and stuff. It was so odd seeing Lance play and not be the central feature of the band. The first thing it made me realize that Lance could actually really play guitar. The second was that in another scene Lance's non-traditional singing voice might have forced him into a lesser role if he wanted to be in a band. What a loss that would have been.

The third thing was seeing him walk across the club without kids coming up to talk to him. He was probably the most approachable band guy I've ever met, constantly talking to kids who came to SF hoping to see him working his shift at Epicenter or at some of the bars, taquerias, and cafes he mentioning in his songs, if not his shows. Occasionally he'd have to hide from a creepy one, but that was rare. Usually he'd hang out, talk about their hometown (which he probably had played), and generally treat them as a new friend. There were times he really represented all that the punk scene should have been.

I hadn't seen Lance in awhile when I got the word he went into a coma.. My heart goes out to his partner and his friends there. To many of us in San Francisco, or maybe just to me, his bad health was a little hard to fathom. My memory of Lance is full of mellow energy, happy to see you, happy to chat, always looking for new bands and new fun. I imagine that the last couple of years, being on dialysis, not being able to go to every show, was incredibly hard for him. But I always thought I'd just run into him in the Mission or at a show one day. That he would have beaten his bad organs, that he'd be the same old Lance.

Old Epicenter workers crashing the Epicenter closing party 1999. I believe this was right after Lance's first brush with hospitalization. (Thanks Jeff Heermann!)
goodbye epicenter

In one of his best known songs, Lance wrote:
So where's my sense of humor?
My life is a disaster,
No one has a future,
So let's all get there faster

But it was a cautionary tale. He wasn't a No Future Drunk Punk.. He was writing about going to the local bar and looking at what he might become if he let himself. He didn't want to get ground down like other working class people around him there: unhappy, overworked, underpaid. The narrator in the song reacts to those thoughts by deciding to blow off work the next day and take time doing something important for himself.

Lance organized his life to be a writer and artist. He recorded what… 300 songs? His bands put out albums faster than the Minutemen in their prime. He wrote for MRR and was trying to document the obscure bands of the '80s Peace Punk scene. Bands that meant a lot to people like us even if almost no one has ever heard of them. He was one of the people who make all these alternative scenes and obscure political movements possible. People in every city with a punk scene, or that once had a punk scene, are mourning him

He worked his whole life for it, never getting famous or rich, but doing it anyway. It's something a lot of people promised when they were 18 but few actually did. He meant it, ya know? All of it.

Bye Lance. You are missed already.

* So funny I had to link. Filling a booth near the Photo Area, Edgar, Wells, and Hahn share a laugh over the crash pad half a block from Epicenter This was also the apartment referred to as "My home, my tomb" in "My Favorite Place".

** If anyone's interested, my favorite Lance albums are Cringer "I Take My Desires for Reality… Because I Believe in the Reality of My Desires." And the J Church early singles collection " Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands". The "Nostalgic for Nothing" comp is pretty good too. If you want to find one song to download, I'd say "My Favorite Place", "Nostalgic for Nothing" or "Bomb" (J Church) or "Petrograd" "Despair Ends" or "(If I had your) Pen" (Cringer)

*** Other Lance stories from at the same time, Commander cranky, and at a blog set up for Lance stories here. Someone also set up a Flickr Photo pool (which I also LJ syndicated)

(56 comments | Leave a comment)


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[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
Beautiful post, Gordon. Thanks.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
I just got a weird message from an old roommate about Lance *yesterday*, so I Googled and found out about his being in a coma.

Lance was all over my dreams last night, and true to form, he was on tour, and I was driving him and a bunch of androgynous girls (his band, of course, I think Nellie was one of them--so awesome to see that picture, I forget about everyone but you and Lisa) around to numerous shitty holes in the wall in downtown L.A.

This is just poopy.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
this is lovely.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
This is a beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.
Date:October 23rd, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
i'm very sorry, gordon. i didn't know him but i certainly remember his presence.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this, Gordon. Reaffirms my wish that I'd gotten to know him better.
Date:October 23rd, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the excellent post.

One of my favorite memories of the guy, dating back to the shared Valencia St. flat: I came home early one afternoon, walked up the stairs, and was greeted by the sight of Lance dancing his ass off to that Blur tune "boys who are girls who are boys who like boys..." Fists raised in the air, defiantly. He saw me, froze in place for a moment, and then we both busted up laughing.

[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)
that's awesome. Please submit something to the memorial zine. I think an illustration of this scene would be awesome.
Date:October 23rd, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
I hadn't heard his name until you mentioned it, but I read every word of this sweet loving post about him. I'm sorry your friend died.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
I'm really sorry for your loss G. xoxo
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Gordon. This is really moving.

Since you aren't lj friends with villagecharm, I want to point you over to his post today about Lance and J Church. It's very good.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 07:32 pm (UTC)

fuckin beautiful.

dude, see if the Bay Gaurdian or SF Weekly will run this.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC)

Re: fuckin beautiful.

I maybe should have. I offered it up to MRR already though.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 07:55 pm (UTC)
One of the hardest things for me about aging has been that people in my generation, people I care about, just start . . . going away. :/
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks G, you said it all better than I could have. Is there any talk of getting together up this way?
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
There was a gathering last night but it just made me sad because, due to short notice, many, many folks who cared about Lance didn't hear about it in time. We definitely should get together. I can even offer my apartment, with enough notice, or we could pick an appropriate public location.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)
"Lance was an auto-didact, a student of history, especially anarchist history. I mean geez, he even put Leon Czolgosz, unlabeled, on a J Church shirt. He was also sweet, kind, thoughtful, and quietly funny. He knew how to make people feel good but more than that, he cared about making people feel good. He carried a million details in his brain, surprising you with something you said offhand at some show or some party months before. He was a special, special man."

This is totally accurate about him. In high school at the Kamehameha Schools he was the only Hawaiian with a mohawk. He was a thinker. And genuinely kind.

I actually found out while reading the gymrats community Friends List and read what atthesametime wrote about him. The last time I heard was that he was "sore." I did not know he was going to die.

I am devastated but at least his former classmates know. I don't want them to forget him. Know what I mean? I certainly won't :(

[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2007 09:21 pm (UTC)
I didn't know him, but I feel like maybe I did, a little, from reading this. My condolences to you and the larger community.

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