"All the things I hate in this fucking world haven't gone away"
I'm not much of a lyrics guy. I say that like it's some kind of hard and fast rule, but every rule has exceptions. It holds (for the most part). I own the giant tome compiling all of Bob Dylan's lyrics, but my favorite Dylan songs still depend on his superb lyrics being delivered with a great performance, too. My biggest exception is J Church, the bay-area pop-punk that (sort of) could.
J Church were never innovators, and were no kind of virtuosos. They were never famous or even up-and-coming, yet they persevered for 15 years. They could afford passable production only about half the time (I'd say only two of their albums sound 'professional'). They had a revolving door membership, singer and guitarist Lance Hahn was the only constant. What endeared them to me was what Lance had to say.
Jawbreaker—by far the most beloved band of the era—were highly personal, proto-emo. Green Day—by far the most successful—were candied confections singing about… well, nothing really. J Churh were a working man's thinking band. Underneath a mere handful of bar chords and plain spoken words lurked huge ideas.
Like Fugazi, J Church's politics were inherently personal. Unlike them, nothing was so certain in Lance's world. His views were human, often muddled and always striving. Lance Hahn dealt more in self-examination than in strident edicts. One of his most overt statements, Part of the Problem, simply refuses to be chastised for abstaining from protest demonstrations. His personal songs would seamlessly veer political. Racked might amount to an unrequited love song, but he views it through a drunken, conflicted feminism, citing 'Dionysian polemics' along the way—all in a song less than 2 minutes long.
10 years ago today, I found out Lance Hahn had died. Luckily, I was on a visit home, sitting with a dear friend who could share the profound sense of loss I felt at that moment. I'm old enough to have seen many artists I grew up with (or otherwise loved) pass. My relationship to them doesn't much change—whatever it was when they died seems fixed in amber. J Church, though, continues to resonate as a living force with me.
J Church seemed to always grow with me. Albums would arrive, grappling with new issues and conceptual nuance at levels I just happened to be ready for. There are some songs, though, that I've found reserved—left like time capsules that have only made sense in my future. He wrote a farewell letter to San Francisco, Satanists Convene, that resonated with me only recently, when I was leaving NYC for good. So many of those sentiments rang true: What I loved about the city were memories. Whether I'd stayed or left—New York (or I) had moved on already.
I distinctly remember when fellow bay area punks, Green Day found their righteousness—making American Idiot as a commentary on the invasion of Iraq staged by the GW.Bush administration. It was chock full of overly long songs with positions so vague either side of the issue could still gleefully sing along. The same year, J Church released Society Is a Carnivorous Flower. It featured an unprecedented (for them) sidelong, multi-part, epic title track. It was, at heart, an examination of the 1968 Situationist riots in France. Esoteric, for sure, but it didn't feel dated. Lance discussed it with an eye to examining our current world, gaining a palpable sense of presence by toggling between second- and third-person narrative. I'm still unpacking its meanings and references.
I can honestly say I'm a better person for listening to J Church. Sometimes it felt like Lance would articulate what I felt better than I could for myself. Other times, he forced me to look inwards and challenge what I found there. I may have a more profound love for other bands, or I'm more fascinated or inspired by others, but I don't think I'll miss any band more than J Church.
"Tomorrow, if I haven't lost my mind,
I'll beg to borrow all the words I can't define"