Van Christian, considered one of Tucson’s most notorious rock and roll sons, died Tuesday, a day after his 62nd birthday. A founding member of the Serfers and Inexperienced on Pink and the frontman of legendary desert rockers Bare Prey, his loss is being mourned on at the very least two continents and a variety of people way more educated and eloquent than me can have so much to say on the matter. However I will say a couple of phrases in his honor all the identical and hope that my eulogy does him justice.
Van was born on the Fourth of July and his son Dillon Christian swears that when he was a small little one, his father had him satisfied that the fireworks yearly had been there to have a good time Van’s birthday.
“Simply wait until you develop up, son, they’re going to have some in your birthday too!”
Dillon believed this for years earlier than he realized his dad was placing him on.
However this July 4, each firework actually was, by some means, for Van. On the tail finish of a years’ lengthy wrestle with congestive coronary heart failure and the top of just about per week of dwelling hospice, Van was holding on for one final Fourth. And when the day got here, it was precisely what it wanted to be. Like the person himself, the scene was a juxtaposition of magnificence and holy chaos.
Fireworks had been going off outdoors the entrance door, lighting up the sky at night time and sounding like the top of the world.
Relations serenely recited Khalil Gibran at Van’s bedside, whereas bourbon photographs had been downed in his honor.
Incredulous nurses had been instructed precisely who it was they had been caring for and proven outdated footage and album covers and instructed tales of Van dealing with down rifle-welding communist bloc guards to carry out Bare Prey”s “What Value For Freedom.”
And there was music. In fact there was music. And ridiculous tales involving previous birthday celebrations and fireworks associated mayhem. And a birthday cherry pie, in lieu of a cake, was ready on the kitchen counter like a latticed paintings of ruby and gold.
There was discuss whether or not the hospital mattress could possibly be carried outdoors to let Van drop some small fireworks off the balcony, although it seems that is the type of factor that dwelling hospice people roughly draw the road at.
After which there was Van’s fiancee, Sarah Hamilton, standing at his bedside in a wedgewood blue robe and a hand-decorated hat whispering vows to the love of her life and promising him that he’d by no means be forgotten. That half was sort of goddamned lovely.
In the meantime, sitting quietly within the background was your favourite native music journalist, volunteer radio DJ, sudden rock and roll widow, there in case the rock and roll widow-to-be wanted a hand or a hug or a visit to the Circle Ok. As a result of that is Tucson, the place proficient individuals reside and die and want one another round to get by the residing and dying par.
The primary time your trusty scribe turned conscious of Van Christian was on the radio. It was 1986 or so and my precocious preteen self had a standing Sunday night time appointment with Jonathan L’s Virgin Vinyl present, a pair hour weekly slice of the native rock radio airwaves that featured post-punk, hardcore and DIY bands galore, together with one of the best and newest of Tucson’s quickly rising homegrown punk and desert rock scenes.
Of all of the native bands match to be performed on the FM dial (retaining in thoughts that bands like Bloodspasm, UPS and the like had been largely too profane to ever make it previous FCC tips) the one which appeared most “harmful” and full of fireside, grit and an nearly heavy metal-ish edge was Van’s band Bare Prey, whose sophomore album “Underneath The Blue Marlin” got here out that yr.
There are a thousand and one tales about Van again within the day and a variety of finish with him instigating shenanigans, inflicting wanting mayhem or evading prison justice simply within the nick of time. However there are an equal variety of tales about Van digging some artist or musician out of the proverbial gutter, inspiring them to stand up and maintain their head excessive and play or write or sing or carry out.
He was a bigger than life sort of man, however humble in all of the ways in which mattered most. He appeared to like being a little bit of a legend however by no means needed consideration for consideration’s sake and was by no means swayed by goals of fame or glory. By no means intimidated even when given the prospect to play with well-known people like Jonathan Richman or Hope Sandoval or the Replacements and even Johnny Thunders.
Van’s fame was that of an anti-rock star and iconoclast. When his band the Serfers left for Los Angeles to make a stab at Paisley Underground notoriety as Inexperienced On Pink, Van was the one who cared extra about music than fame. Fairly quickly he was again in Tucson elevating some hell and ditching his drum equipment to entrance his personal band, Bare Prey.
Van and Bare Prey had been among the many cadre of Tucson bands who had been infamously “huge in Europe,” reaching followers from Germany to Italy to Jap and laying the groundwork for extra native bands to do the identical. And along with the band Van drummed, performed or sang in a slew of facet initiatives, together with The Band of Blackie Ranchette with Rainer and the Buddies of Dean Martinez (initially often called Buddies of Dean Martin till Dean Martin’s authorized workforce objected — not cool, Dino!) The previous band was, in fact, the group that ultimately begat Calexico, so we are able to partially thank and/or blame Van for that.
And though the heyday of desert rock was a few many years previous, Van was by no means a kind of guys who took breaks from enjoying over time, both drumming or enjoying in dozens of bands throughout the many years together with, considerably lately, Sundowners and Band of Angels with Greyhound Soul’s Joe Peña. All the time one to advertise different proficient people, Van additionally hosted different musicians in an ongoing residency on the Dusty Monk Pub at Outdated City Artisans in Tucson up till not lengthy earlier than the COVID lockdown.
Van’s solo work was the place he shone probably the most, nonetheless.
His good solo effort “Get together of One” evokes echoes of Neil Younger by the use of Lou Reed by the use of Springsteen by the best way of the Stones and Iggy and T. Rex and Gram Parsons. Etcetera. Native DJ Kidd Squid as soon as known as it the best album since “Exile On Primary Avenue.” This was a rock and curler who knew his musical forebears and carried their classes with him, all the time.
And Van stored writing and enjoying and collaborating with different bands and musicians up till nearly the top, with what he promised can be a few of his finest materials but to be launched.
Which brings me again to the radio. The place Van Christian heard yours really for the very first time.
Just a few years again, I used to run a David Bowie-themed radio present on native LPFM station Downtown Radio and it seems that Van and his fiancee Sarah Hamilton had been the present’s largest followers.
Based on Sarah, Van used to good-naturedly complain that he each cherished and was aggravated by my present as a result of I received all my historical past proper however I used to be lacking what it was like to really be there, as a teenage child, listening to Bowie and Iggy and T. Rex for the primary time.
Van, however, was there.
Together with childhood associates like Dan Stuart and Billy Sedlmayr and the chums of theirs who joined them in begging their dad and mom to allow them to see concert events on the TCC and the UA ballroom forming the early glam and rock and primitive punk bands that turned the embryo from which grew early Tucson punk and post-punk and desert rock.
Even post-punk pioneers are human, although. Their our bodies give out, their hearts get weak, even when their souls are fiery and loud.
And the factor about rock and roll caretakers is that the one individuals who really perceive them are different rock and roll caretakers.
As a result of, whereas these fierce, proficient, cussed good souls don’t go gently as a rule. And whereas they wrestle to beat what ails them, these of us who love them spend all of the battle we have now inside us battling medical restrictions and bureaucracies and monetary stress and feeding, bathing, loving and comforting the individuals who as soon as wrote us songs and made us beam with pleasure from the entrance row of the viewers.
And so, whereas Sarah moved mountains for Van and summoned an inside power past what any human being ought to have to seek out in themselves, she known as on me for consolation. As a result of she knew that I had walked that street too.
The day after my very own fiancee Mario’s memorial, I visited Van in a talented nursing facility and talked about music and his upcoming launch. I instructed him about Mario’s final days and the way he spent them listening to albums he cherished and making peace together with his life and his legacy. And I instructed Van that we would ensure his final recording was completed and heard far and vast.
And although it was unstated between us, he knew and I knew that the percentages are he would not be round to see that occur.
Days later Van was again within the hospital, starting to fade into the haze the place he may simply simply see associates like Rainer from past the proverbial veil as his associates and family members on this airplane of existence.
After his launch to dwelling hospice, Van struggled in opposition to being caught in mattress, hoping to flee however too unstable on his ft to face. He wanted two robust males to carry him in place and principally raged in opposition to the dying of the sunshine.
After which, on the Fourth of July, Van had his final birthday celebration. And within the wee hours of July fifth, with Sarah at his facet, his heartbeat stopped and that loud, gravelly voice was uncharacteristically quiet.
Based on Dillon Christian, Van would need the next added to his obituary: Van by no means conformed to another person’s regular, irrespective of how exhausting it received or what transpired. He was himself by and thru. And he was precisely who he needed to be.
Van Christian was born on the Fourth of July and he wrote his anthem, “What Value For Freedom” in honor of the darkish facet of Independence Day. The struggling and sacrifice and battle and human value of the freedoms and privileges all of us take as a right. It is a message that resonates greater than ever on this second in historical past.
In order all of us rise as much as converse reality in opposition to hate and resist forces threatening to set the clock again 50 years or so, consider Van and inform the powers that be to go straight to hell with that energy journey. That is what he’d need you to do.
Effectively, that, plus play an instrument or do no matter artwork you do. Or toss fireworks out the window and set issues on hearth. Please for the love of God do not do this final half. At the very least not on my watch.
Van additionally needed a Viking funeral. Unsure how Sarah and Dillon are going to drag that off, however the place there is a will, there is a means.
These goddamn rock and roll casualties with their Viking funerals and goals of getting eaten by sharks are going to lift all our insurance coverage premiums sky excessive, so the remainder of you had higher get your well being checked. The caretakers are getting drained and the DJs are operating out of memorial playlists and the obituary writers are posting these items a little bit bit too usually and we do not need to preserve saying of those sorts of goodbyes.
In the meantime Sarah continues to be right here. She cherished that man with all her coronary heart and he or she took care of him when the remainder of us could not. Let’s deal with her too.
Be good to one another and trigger some holy chaos. For Van.
Your pleasant neighborhood music scribe.