PART I: Letting go of the ghost
It was one of those windless, arid SoCal summer days. emberghost, the band we were currently reviving from a long, 7-year hiatus following the death of co-vocalist/keyboardist Sarah Jennings, had just endured a long rehearsal in its $450/month North Hollywood rehearsal space. Our ears were ringing; our drummer was LOUD. But hey, we had a drummer. And a place to practice. And guitarists and female vocalists interested. Riding the momentum of our NLFTE project, emberghost was about to come back in a big way.
So why didn't I care?
In the months previous, Daniel Alden (bass) and I had been writing and rehearsing in our Echo Park living room. We briefly entertained a few interested parties working with us (Kristen Randall, for one), but it was mostly just the two of us, an acoustic guitar, a bass, and a JBL speaker. We would open a bottle of wine and just play, writing soft, intimate songs we imagined we'd one day "ghostify" with some heavy drums and grating distortion. The problem is that once we actually arrived at a place where we had the equipment and manpower to convert the songs into emberghost-friendly material, the music lost its soul in the process.
2 bands, maybe?
After one rehearsal, in the sun-baked car on our way out of the parking lot I admitted to Daniel:
I'm just not feeling this. I feel like I should be more excited, but I'm just not.
It was the beginning of an existential crisis not only for emberghost, but for ourselves as individuals and as aspiring musicians. The dream that we had abandoned and crawled back to years later was now in jeopardy. If we didn't care, why should anyone else?
Our solution was to split the band into two parts; emberghost would play the heavier, angst-ridden not-quite-post-hardcore rock our fans were used to, while we'd continue to pursue the intimate, heartfelt songs we had been working on at home under another name. Genius!
Our great revelation lasted about a day.
Once we had given ourselves permission to run with the new project, suddenly we found a future with emberghost less interesting. For one, we'd have a blank canvas to work with; no fan expectations, no varied Google search results that would inevitably bring much of our less quality work to the surface, no Kristen Randall announcements ... we were free from the "weight" of our history; everything from Sarah's passing to our egomaniacal reputation to tensions with previous band members to Portland itself were no longer drifting behind us.
In a word, it was liberating.
The move wasn't without its drawbacks, of course. Some of you are learning about the heartless abandonment of emberghost (don't worry, we're still doing NLFTE, pt. II) as you read this, and might feel some disappointment after all the anticipation we created (or tried to create, anyway). We had plenty of fans, 150,000+ PureVolume plays, over a thousand Facebook fans, etc.,. We had a fairly decent online resumé that could get us shows, musicians, opportunities ... But it was all part of the history that was boxing us in creatively, and we felt, and still feel, a resolute sense of peace about letting it go.
I think, even after everything the emberghost name has endured, all the weight that comes with it, we'll never put it entirely behind us. It's not dead, just ... dormant. For now.
Part II: The Birth of Hurry Death
On a quiet night in Echo Park Daniel and I again sat in a beat up Toyota Avalon, talking excitedly about our new music venture, our clean slate. The entire 20-minute drive from West Hollywood had been spent imagining the possibilities ahead of us; we were energized and reinvigorated; we were inspired.
What are we gonna call it?
In December of 2013, Jack Crews passed away. His beloved wife of 60+ years had passed away two years earlier. Prior to his death, as his quality of life diminished to the point where the smallest task had become a major undertaking, he posed a strange and beautiful question. To his daughter, whom he lived with, he asked: Do you think it's OK to pray to die?
Of course it is.
Jack Crews is my grandfather. He was instrumental in seeing my sister and me through a difficult childhood and into a somewhat well-adjusted adulthood. I had no bigger supporter of my musical career, despite it being sometimes hard to understand what you're saying. Death would be his great liberator. Death would end his suffering and reunite him with his great love.* Death is an enemy to the living, certainly, but it's often a friend to the dying.
Such is the irreconcilable conflict of goodbye. The healthy living are not equipped to remedy the loss of their dearest, but take quiet comfort as suffering expires with the body. No one wanted Sarah to die, but I think everyone who knew her felt a sense of relief in that her struggle with pain and checkups and treatments and discomfort had finally let her alone.
All of Hurry Death's songs exist in that bittersweet thin space. The name itself asks Death to come and deliver us from our suffering and reunite us with those we've lost forever. Not all of the songs are explicitly about death, of course ... they simply live in that heightened emotional galaxy in which Great Love and Great Loss drift.
Just last week I lost a champion of a friend in Crystal Ruth Bell to skin cancer. She and I didn't waste time with pleasantries; our conversations dove right into the deep end and were 99.8% hard philosophy. I hadn't spoken with her in the weeks leading up to her death, but from what I understand, she wasn't suffering (I could be absolutely wrong about this, and may revise that statement later). It undermines my statements about death being a friend, because in this case it was a great enemy.
But maybe I'll see her again one day. And maybe (definitely) her death will (has) inspired (many) others to live a life as big as hers. Maybe death will make the rest of us heroes. Maybe it will help us realize how short and important life is. Maybe it will reunite us all. Maybe it will consolidate our great loss.
So ... Hurry, death ... join me again with the ones I love. Romantic and preposterous as that idea might be, I find it comforting.
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*Religious/non-religious ideas aren't a factor here. Believers might view this as a literal statement, while non-believers might see it as a romantic notion. It's fine; don't stress about it.