For those who didn’t know, Lance Hahn passed away Friday after slipping in a coma a week earlier. Lance Hahn was a brilliant songwriter and a great musician. His band, J-Church (and before that, Cringer), recorded several albums and many singles. He had friends all over the world, who will be very sad when they get the news.
I met Lance nineteen years ago. He was 21 and I was 19. We worked for nuclear disarmament organization. We would canvas rich liberal neighborhoods trying to sign people up as members, much like Greenpeace does. It was a shitty job to say the least. The best part about it was meeting Lance. Lance was really funny and I loved the way he laughed. It was real. He and his friends moved to L.A. from Hawaii in the late 80’s because they thought the punk scene would be better in L.A. Unfortunately, they came right when the hair-metal thing was huge in L.A. and punk was out of vogue. His band Cringer only played a half a dozen shows in the three years they were in L.A. At the time I was taking a recording class at Harbor College. I told him that I could record Cringer for free. He took me up on the offer and we recorded Cringer’s Zen Flesh, Zen Bones E.P. It was my first time behind the mixing board. It sounded horrible and I knew it, but they released it anyway. I ended up playing a show or two on guitar with them before they moved to San Francisco. They asked me a few days before they left, "Hey, do you want to come with us?" I declined. Once they moved up north they became a part of the Gilman Street community, released some records, did a few tours, broke up and became J-Church. I started playing in bands as well and every time I would come up San Francisco to play he would be at the shows. After the shows, we’d drink 40’s and eat burritos from one of the Mexican places on Valencia in the Mission District, then he'd load me up on punk rock gossip. He was like my punk rock comradre.
In 1994 I spent most of the year playing bass in Beck’s band. On a break from tour I went up to San Francisco to visit friends. Beck was searching for a guitar player to replace one who just quit the group. When I told Lance that Beck was looking for a guitar player he asked if he could try out. I never thought of asking him, even though he was a great guitar player. I just figured he was busy with J-Church. He learned all the songs in a few days, came to Los Angeles to try out and joined us for the rest of the year. We went to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Japan, Europe and the East Coast. I was always amazed how many people Lance knew. Everywhere we went he had friends, from celebrities, huge area rock stars, cult bands, writers, directors, politicians to indie-rock legends. Even though it was Beck with the hit on the radio, backstage, Lance was the star. He was the one that everyone knew and loved.
From the time I knew him, he kept in correspondence with everyone he met. I admired that about him. I’m lucky to remember someone’s name twenty minutes after meeting them. He also could write more songs in a week than I could in a year and all of them would be great. He was always up for an adventure. Anytime he went anywhere or met someone he soaked up everything about that person or place. He was the type that could get up and move somewhere new when the time was right. Me? I get too attached to places, people and things. Maybe that’s why I won’t leave L.A.
On top of that, he was D.I.Y. in the true sense. He frequented, worked or helped start many independent establishments. He released his own records, made his own fanzines, website and t-shirts. He had high ideals but was never preachy. He was never one of those annoying, “look at me” D.I.Y. guys. He just did it. It was his way of life and as easy to him as breathing is to most. He never once told me, “This is the way you do things.” He did his thing and I learned from that.
The last time I saw Lance was at the end of 2003. I was on tour and had a show in Austin. I wanted to invite Lance to the show but I had forgotten his phone number at home. I happened to check the local newspaper and I noticed that J-Church was playing that night at Emo’s. After my show I went Emo’s to find Lance. We spoke briefly after his set. He did not look so well. Still, he said he was going to pack his gear and come and visit me at the club I was playing at. He never made it, but I wasn’t upset. I figured I’d see him down the line. I always did.
I never had the chance to tell Lance how much he meant to me. I think he would be embarrassed if I ever did. His influence helped me and others like myself over the last twenty years. It didn't matter if you'd known him since he was a teenager or if you talked to him a couple of times -- you felt his influence. I feel lucky to have known him and to have called him my friend.
Goodbye Lance, see ya friend.