Monday, October 22, 2007

End of Line For Lance Hahn of J Church

I was having a near perfect day, wasting an afternoon watching a friend and his band rip through a set of great tunes for a small audience at a local radio station studio showcase gig. Outside the sky was crystal clear, and the sun was shining over the bay. An hour later, I made the mistake of opening my email to discover word filtering in of a distressing development for the The Coalition of Aging Rockers.

Indeed we had lost another comrade, and this was no OD or drunken misfit debacle, in fact he likely was the cleanest liver of a bitter bunch, the least alcoholic and most studious, but still it was gone too soon at the age of 40.

Billy Joel & later Me First & The Gimme Gimmes have reminded me musically that "only the good die young", and indeed that seems true, as we have sadly lost another one of the good guys.

Coalition Of Aging Rockers
Longtime local SF musician Lance Hahn, who lovingly named his punk rock band after his favorite Muni streetcar line has died after long battles with kidney ailments in an Austin Texas hospital this past weekend. Best known for fronting his band J Church, Hahn operated out of San Francisco from the early 90's for almost a decade until he relocated from a flat near 16th on Valencia St to Austin in 2000.

Lance Hahn R.I.P .jpg
pic courtesy Fat Wreck Chords

He had originally come from Hawaii circa 1990 with a scrappy trio known as Cringer, which played shows at venues like The Women's Building, Komotion & Berkeley's Gilman St Project. Eventually he formed J-Church which released literally hundreds of recordings on tiny indie record labels all over the world including his own Honey Bear imprint. While not a technically gifted singer, he parlayed a vast array of musical influences including everything from Crass, Radiohead, Adam & The Ants to ELO, into a blend of pop infused punk that became uniquely identifiable & influential, remaining well regarded in the underground music scene. He had no shortage of themes & subjects, composing improbable rock titles like "Leni Riefenstahl's Tinder Box", "The Dramatic History Of A Boring Town" , or "Socialist Newspaper", all the while delivering each song with an overall emotional sincerity rarely heard in a jaded age. One memorable release to check out would have to be his Mission District opus "Camels, Spilled Coronas & The Sound of Mariachi Bands". For those who'd like a broader overview, perhaps the compilation of rare 7" tracks called "Nostalgic for Nothing".

From 1993's "Camels, Spilled coronas & Mariachi Bands"

J Church - Misery

In addition to fronting Cringer & J-Church, he toured as a guitarist in Beck's band in 1994-95. He is survived by his longtime girlfriend Liberty, they had no children.

A man with friends, fans & admirers literally all over the world, there's a chance Hahn left behind much more here on earth than a prolific discography of obscure vinyl 7" singles. For a spell in the latter 1990's, he was known to be supplementing his meager income with visits to a certain Berkeley sperm bank...

Watch out world... who knows for sure, perhaps lil' Lance's may indeed be sprouting everywhere...

If there are no biological heirs, there are at least many "logical" heirs. Tons of kids too young to have ever seen J-Church or Cringer at their peaks, but who've been influenced & touched ever so remotely by this guy's music, writing & inspirational D.I.Y influence abound.

Aside from his handy presence at the local sperm bank, Lance worked just as hard behind the scenes helping others as he ever did at the mic, and was known for his writing in Maximum Rock & Roll & Giant Robot magazine, as well as working at indie record distributors like Revolver, Blacklist Mailorder and Epicenter Records. His overall "situationist "viewpoints didn't preclude a little capitalist wage slavery and you might've seen him behind the counter at Lost Weekend video in SF or later on at Sound Exchange in Austin. His final job was working at Austin's Vulcan Video store, before he went in for dialysis one day earlier this month, and fell tragically into a coma.

I believe the next time I play that damn J-Church "Kittums In A Coma" single, It'll have a whole different resonance for me.

J-Church had a rotating line-up, with Hahn being the sole consistent member & songwriter. They had some good tunes, and their share of weak ones and were never my favorite band, but Lance was a dmaned good guy really, who wore the heart on the sleeve and you really can't fault a guy for being himself...

His presence was worth so much more than a hundred better bands, and that's because his heart was iin his music & his music not the plastic kind of syrupy crap you see in the tunes used advertisements and on TV...

A tribute album had recently been organized amongst 5 labels to help raise dough to pay some of his mounting medical bills, as the uninsured musician fell into declining health. There were operations, bleeding sockets left in him, and numerous agonizing dialysis sessions that made bleak his final year. The Vulcan Video website still has a link to help pay his medical bills, which remain a huge burden.

The Lance I remember meeting in the dawn of the 90's had a swift wit and great sense of humor, and we could trade barbs at empty venues during soundchecks and in dusty record filled warehouses for hours. He had a great spirit, took music & politics seriously and was always indefatigably willing to play a benefit show for a lost cause. Over the years, I sensed him getting more solemn, distant, deeper & more internally driven, and perhaps he instinctively knew he would not be long on this spinning orb. He pushed himself on tours across continents in a real race against time, left a creative trail of entertaining intellectual crumbs, gave it his all, and truly delivered. And ...he is gone...

One of a kind...

R.I.P Lance Hahn 1967 - 2007

Here's a track from the 2004 release Society Is A Carnivorous Flower

J Church - Keep Smiling America

Here's one from 1996's Drama of Alienation LP

J Church - Secrets

A Video of Lance performing his song "My Favorite Place", which incidentally was also the subtitle of the band's website...

From 2007's "the Horror of Life"

J Church - Vampire Girl Prefers Me Alive

Beck w/ Lance backing him - Nightmare Hippy Girl recorded live in Japan, more at Honeybear website

Visit the J-Church or Honey Bear website for a complete discography and a peek into this guy's mind that was ever active until the end

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