SONIC REDUCER J Church's Lance Hahn was possibly the only vocalist-guitarist ever to front a punk band wearing slippers (translation for mainlanders: flip-flops). A longtime presence in the Mission District anarchist punk scene until his move to Austin, Texas, in 1999, Hahn died down south Oct. 21 at 40 from complications after a lengthy battle with kidney disease. Although we were both from Honolulu, and the same small but spunky punk scene at that, I never really knew him, though throughout the '90s I saw him around town and behind the counter at scruffy, sunny Epicenter, the punk zine HQ and hangout high above 16th Street and Valencia.
He really found a home here, on the other side of the Muni tracks that inspired his band name. That much was evident Nov. 11 at Hahn's packed memorial, organized by friends like exJ Church drummer and current Aquarius co-owner Andee Conners. Watching the Super 8 films of Hahn as a child and surrounded by copies of old J Church posters, I was struck by the realization that an era not just a man had truly passed. He'd had an impact on punk scenes here and elsewhere. Never mind that he played guitar for Beck from 1994 to '95 Hahn was more than that. He was an unassuming everyguy who happened to front a fine punk unit named after the streetcar line that carted him to work and provided a space for his songwriting and an artist who touched a lot of people with his music, the words he wrote in zines like Maximumrocknroll, and his presence in the '90s SF anarchopunk scene.
At a time when punk so often comes off as yet another stale, mall-purchased arena pose, Hahn is a reminder of how politicized the music was in the '80s and even the '90s and what an act of will it was to be hardcore in those prewired days. You had to make the effort to scour Factsheet Five to find the zines to connect with other voices in the wilderness or to get your grubby meat hooks on the 7-inches that you could never find in your small-town record store. When I first encountered Hahn, he was playing with a few of the smarter, more committed local misfits in Cringer, a Honolulu punk combo known for its superior songwriting. Other like-minded, passionate souls were few and far between, which may have been why Hahn garnered a reputation as a warm, approachable figure, even as J Church found punk renown.
I heard he had moved to Los Angeles to work for nuclear disarmament group SANE/FREEZE and then finally relocated to San Francisco, where he worked for the activists as well as Revolver and recorded with J Church for such imprints as Lookout! and Honest Don's. The year he moved to Austin, Hahn was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and in 2006 with kidney failure and once again congestive heart failure. In the months before his death, he went through numerous outpatient surgeries, struggled through dialysis, and stressed out about his lack of insurance, although he continued to plug onward, running Honey Bear Records, publishing his zine, Some Hope and Some Despair, and working on a tome of anarchopunk history.
He'll doubtless be a part of that history, thanks to fans and friends like Gits drummer Steve Moriarty, who e-mails, "Lance's purpose was more than to be a musician in a punk band. He was an inspiration and center of a very positive and progressive music scene during the '90s" and Adam Pfahler, who drummed for J Church as well as Jawbreaker and Whysall Lane. "Aside from being one of the smartest, funniest people I've known, he was a Mission District fixture and the glue that held the San Francisco punk rock community together through J Church, setting up shows, his writing, volunteer work, and most importantly, his friendships," Pfahler writes in an e-mail.