We called Lance Hahn "the Job of punk rock." The leader of long-running punk band J Church didn't have it easy, especially the past few years. He nearly died from a previously unknown heart problem. He barely escaped an apartment fire that destroyed everything he had. Kidney problems caused constant pain and required dialysis. Keeping track of it all was challenging enough, never mind the medications, surgeries, dietary restrictions, debt, and general hassles it created. As Lance grew more ill this past year, just staying alive was his biggest challenge. He lost it Sunday at age 40.
He leaves behind the usual family and friends, but also a legion of admirers and massive catalogue of music: Over 16 years, J Church released seven full-lengths, four singles' compilations, two split albums, more than 30 singles, roughly 25 split singles, and nine "miscellaneous" full-lengths. If Lance had ever faced Robert Pollard in a quantitative songwriting contest, it would have been a close race. Pollard may have edged him out in the end, but I'll take a J Church record over him any day of the week.
Unlike Robert Pollard, though, J Church was never hip. Lance grew up in a no-bullshit, anti-rockstar punk scene that ignored fashionable trends and skewered those who took them seriously (check out One Mississippi's "Rich And Young And Dumb"). He was, in the best sense of the word, a lifer: a person who took punk's ideals seriously and wrote compulsively, no matter how little the reward. Late into his 30s, Lance and J Church were still in the van, playing inauspicious club shows. In a way, it sounds pitiful, like, "Oh, they never made it," but that was never really part of the equation. When major labels came looking for the next Green Day in the mid-'90s, J Church took meetings like everyone else. But they never took the bait–Lance knew how far J Church could go–and they outlasted everyone. Even more surprising, Hahn continued to make great albums well into J Church's twilight years; 2004's Society Is A Carnivorous Flower ranked among the band's best, and this year's The Horror Of Life maintained that quality level.
The world in Lance's lyrics was never a pretty place–occupied as it was by cruelty, broken relationships, deadening jobs, family dysfunction, personal anguish, phony revolutionaries, myriad lost souls, and lots of binge drinking. He captured it all with a writer's eye for detail that made songs memorable character studies. Lance didn't find a silver lining per se, but beneath the often-weary cynicism that permeated J Church's music, you could still hear some hope.
It was still there in his blog post Oct. 2, when he referenced some show cancellations due to illness. He had weeks of recovery ahead and possibly another surgery, but Lance remained prolific. There were "projects in the works," and plans for J Church once he felt a little better.
A few days later, he posted this simple, gut-wrenching note:
Even with the drugs I feel like I've got needles in my stomach. I'm about to run out of Vicodin and I'm pretty nervous about it. I know I've said it before but I don't mind dying or getting hurt. It's the pain I can't handle.
Hahn's many heartbroken fans–myself included–can at least take solace in knowing that the worst is over for him. He will be sorely missed.
Donations for Lance's memorial service are being accepted via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or vulcanvideo.com. Also check out the Let's Do It For Lance! benefit compilation.
Photo by **lovehate**.