Monday, December 10, 2012

Goodbye dear synthesizer: Mike/Sarah Kirsch

"A lot of folks think this particular lyric is not be appropriate for what might be considered 'underground' but I think 'underground' is whatever your mood or your feelings might be at the time so long as it's the truth. I think it's very appropriate that we might lend a few words of inspiration about that here. We've only just begun..." ~Curtis Mayfield, Live at the Bitter End, 1972

Mike, The Unheard Music, by Chrissy Piper
I've this using the pronoun 'them/they/their' to try to capture the sense of having known both Sarah and Mike Kirsch. Both were significant in different ways, and I hope the care and concern that so many in her community share is evoked through that term.

Hardcore punk ruins you for most any other music there is. At it's finest, it's utterly transporting and can make you feel like you're part of something bigger. Their music could do just that. It brought together the best of the traditions that came before. It was my Revolution Summer, and for the latter half of the 1990s it was the soundtrack of self-exploration for many of my dearest friends.

Mike led by example but wasn't exactly a role model. He was never fully comfortable with the weight of other's expectations--to be unchanging and ever angry. His confidence as an artist came after years of struggling to overcome feelings of inadequacy about reading and writing. He labored over the songs that became anthems, and was a meticulous workhorse, layering together a tapestry of sounds, references, and half-developed ideas that started as stories told late into the night. As I delved deeper into the world of teaching and adolescent literacy we could talk about making meaning with young people as much through the classroom as we could in the world of punk.

As I got older and stopped looking for songs that could speak for me we continued to meet for the legendary Sunday brunch at Herbivore. Even as the Mission has transformed, it has retained the feeling of a village. Chances were, Mike'd be there Sunday mornings, and I could always count on his order: pancakes with home-fries plus extra vegan pesto. Routine helped order their universe.

Torches To Rome @ Neil House--by Joshua Peach
The last time we met, they talked about her newest band about touring, about a new-found obsession with analog keyboards, and about their concerns. Then she came out to me. The whole morning there'd been something different about her. She was at ease in a way that I'd never really seen, and she'd reached out to set up the morning. That really never happened and in all honesty, I'd been upset that we'd grown distant. I felt shut out. The music they were making left me cold. The costumes and rhetoric of Baader Brains were alienating, and deliberately so. After years of being so publicly vulnerable--and there was little that Torches to Rome or Bread and Circuits didn't lay bare--they needed a change.

And then it made sense. Sarah was going where she was coming from. She'd courageously embraced the fluidity of gender and the lightness that she was showing that day on Valencia came from a place of hard-won acceptance and calm.
Window memorial by Veronica De Jesus
We talked about a lot that day: having children (an adventure we approached with both trepidation and curiosity), food (Sarah long ago liberated herself from the tyranny of the Food Not Bombs cookbook and could make a seitan with mango salsa that'd bring tears to your eyes!), and the Eastern Sierra (they were a city mouse, but longed for the mountains.) And death. In retrospect it was eerily prescient, but Sarah really wanted to talk about the last days of her friend and early mentor, Tim Yohannan. She said that one of the shortcomings of our community is how we rarely continue to care for our elders. Are we there for them when their current self no longer resembles that of our memories? Can we move into futures created with our own hands? Have we become so obsessed with trailblazing that we knock down cairns that others would follow moving forward? Or returning home?

I saw Sarah once more, predictably at El Buen Sabor on 18th Street, and she was exhausted. The tour had taken a toll. Politically and spiritually the landscape of the deeper underground was changing and introducing her new self to old friends had been an ordeal. Through it all, though, there remained a deep humility and wicked sense of humor. And then she got ill. Fanconi Anemia was something she had, not something she was. And now she's gone.

Sarah's closest friends, her beloved Jess, and those she touched at the far-flung outposts of the underground were touched by something special. Those sounds, those words, and that smile made an indelible mark on us all. We will all honor her memory by helping ourselves and others live with compassion and integrity. We're challenged now to take what we learned from our time with them and create something more lasting than ourselves.

Much love,

1 comment:

Gábriel said...

thanks for posting this. rest in power, Sarah