(This post may get a bit long as its topic is something dearly embedded in my heart.)
Two days ago the band Kill Hannah announced their final show on December 19th in Chicago. I will not be there, but my heart will.
I wanted to comfort you, so I said, “Shhh….”
– Black Poison Blood
I discovered Kill Hannah around the time their one big radio hit “Lips Like Morphine” was on the air. A friend sent me to their Myspace page, telling me I simply had to hear this ‘new’ band that she was convinced I would love. The band was not new, but my love was instant.
I got my hands on the newly released album Until There’s Nothing Left of Us as well as the previous album For Never & Ever, then immersed myself in the music. At the time I was fresh out of high school and slowly, privately, falling apart. Music was the only real solace I had, and something about Mat’s voice shot straight to my heart. For the first time in awhile I had comfort and strength and belief.
Turn up the radio. I need it more than ever now.
– The Songs That Saved My Life
It was no time at all before I discovered they were about to be touring as an opener for Lostprophets. I knew I had to go. I had never been to a concert in my life, it would be a 7 hour drive, and my list of friends was lacking, but I had to be there. For me. For them.
My sister agreed to make the road trip and we were off to a tiny club in Abilene, Texas, called Old Kelly’s. I had dithered over what to wear for days, not knowing how to seem like a proper ‘rocker girl’ without being overkill. I wasn’t sure if I should wear the Kill Hannah shirt I’d just received in the mail. I had no idea who I was supposed to be at a show. But once I stood inside Old Kelly’s and heard the music swell around me, I realized the only person to be was me. If I didn’t know how to be ‘that girl’, I should be me.
I had gone to the show for the first opener too, The Rasmus, a band from Finland I loved. I had guessed this one night would be the only chance I’d ever have to see them live. I was right. And they were entirely worth it.
In between sets people milled around, some heading to the bar, some to merch booths, some simply wandering about. I walked right up to the edge of the stage and waited. The place was so tiny there was no barrier keeping audience and performers apart. I wasn’t yet versed in the world of rock concerts. I didn’t know how special that was.
I need you to believe in me until there’s nothing left of us.
I also didn’t know how many people might know their music, being that they were not the headlining act. But I knew their music. Every word of it. And I wanted them to know they did have someone in the crowd who believed in them. It was a silly thought, to think I could be that important when I was hardly the only face present, but it felt important to me.
My heart soared when the lights once again dimmed and I heard the first notes of Kill Hannah preparing to come on stage. I danced my heart out. I sang my heart out. And I caught the notice of Dan and Greg who were inches in front of me. They flashed sweet smiles at my enthusiasm and it made my night.
Then something of which I had never even daydreamed occurred.
The first notes of my favorite song began and my emotion was overwhelming. In a flash everything broken inside of me felt healed for a moment. It was just a song. One I’d played over and over again on the stereo. I was just a fan. But I felt loved. I felt precious. And I felt like someone noticed me for the first time.
Open your eyes. We’re here. Are you okay? I’d give all I have just to get you to stay.
– Love You to Death
I couldn’t believe it. I was hearing these words in person.
As the first chorus began, Mat reached down to the crowd and touched the hands of a few eager fans. Then he touched mine. Then he didn’t let go. In a moment of confusion that stretched on for minutes but in reality lasted no more than a second or two, I finally realized he was pulling me on stage. Me. There. With him. In the middle of my favorite song. Just as he began the lines that were most vitally important to my heart.
After the show I had the great happiness of meeting each of the boys and speaking to them. Mat was nowhere to be found as he had gone to the tour bus not feeling well, or so I had been told. I so wanted to tell him how much it had meant to me to hear him perform, but I was still a very shy person, and I certainly wasn’t going to intrude where I was not wanted. Until each of the boys urged me to go outside and find him. One of them, I don’t remember who, encouraged me, telling me if Mat had taken the effort to pull me on stage, he wouldn’t mind if I went to see him for a moment.
I thanked them all and left.
Outside, Mat was on his phone. Did I mention I was a very, very shy 18-year-old? I certainly wasn’t going to bother him now. But he saw me all the same and waved me over. I had my opportunity to thank him for an experience that meant everything to my heart and to wish him well with all of his continued endeavors.
We took a picture and parted ways.
Until two years later, when Kill Hannah landed a headlining show in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
There was nothing that was going to keep me away.
In those two years I had hit rock bottom and was only just beginning the climb back up. I couldn’t wait to see the boys in concert again. I couldn’t wait to hear the music I loved fill the room. I needed the sound of those lyrics, like a hand reaching down to me, promising I hadn’t gone through hell for nothing. Promising that I wasn’t unwanted.
Universe, wrap your arms around me
Make me strong so I can take on anyone
– Why I Have My Grandma’s Sad Eyes
But this time the magical moment happened after the stage was cleared and the fans were meandering out the door.
I wanted to say hello to each of the boys again. Thank them. You can never thank an artist enough for the joy they have given you.
When I saw Mat, I told him, “I’ve seen you before, in Texas.” He smiled and said he remembered. However instead of being an excited fan at hearing that, I assured him instead that I knew he didn’t remember, surely couldn’t remember after two years, dozens of cities, and thousands of fans. I assured him I was not bothered by that, and that he didn’t have to pretend for me to make me happy.
In return he made a slightly frustrated sound, shook his head, and told me again that no, he did remember me. He commented how my hair had been much shorter, made references to how I had been dressed, and then told me that I still looked good.
I couldn’t believe it. He really did remember.
With a soft smile he added that he didn’t pull people on stage very often. The times that he did, he remembered.
To be honest, my heart wasn’t sure what to do with that. I had always understood, even two years before, that I was just a fan. I was one face among many. I knew my adoration and support was appreciated, but I was also convinced that it could never stand out. For them it wasn’t about me. Why should it be? And yet, somehow, a moment in time that was one of my most precious memories was still remembered by the person who gave it to me.
Will you be there for me when I fall to pieces?
Will you listen to me as I fall into pieces?
– Vultures (Be There For Me)
For me, a favorite band isn’t just someone whose music you enjoy. It’s someone who changed your life too.
Over the years I had collected Kill Hannah memorabilia as I could. The picture above contains a few things that mean the most to me, the older albums/EPs and promo photos. (My only regret is that there are still a few CDs I have not been able to track down.)
I had never done this with a band before. But something about Kill Hannah was special. This was important to me. To have a collection even including their earliest work. I have found some of my favorite songs in the early recordings.
Agent orange skies hang bright above this high school gym
And they believe we’re so happy young
And look like pink decorations in our very best crystals
Oh, and how I wanted to dance so badly
– Agent Orange Skies
One year later I saw them for the last time. Once again in Tulsa, in the same tiny venue I’d seen them the year before. And, once again, the show held a special surprise for me. After only two or three songs, Mat declared that the audience seemed too distant, and invited all of us to sit around him on stage. He called it Kill Hannah’s first love-in. It was the most intimate show I’ve been to for any band.
I spent the rest of the set at his feet, next to the drum kit. The other boys stood scattered among us with their guitars. We were entirely caught up by the music all around us. Without the room to jump about and dance I allowed myself to sink into every note. I soaked each song into my soul.
Afterwards, I once again had the opportunity to give my thank yous to each of the boys and wish them well. This time Mat signed for me the photo that had been taken three years ago in that little club in Texas. He was excited to see it.
It is bittersweet for me, in a way, that the legacy of Kill Hannah has come to its conclusion. Mat has healed my soul in ways he will never fully understand. His music has brought me such joy and given me such comfort when I could find neither. Even now, when I find my life full of so much wonder and happiness, his words and music only add to it further.
Kill Hannah will forever be a part of me. For that I am endlessly grateful.
So I will not be in Chicago when they say their farewells, but my heart will be there. My heart is always there.
I remember, I remember everything
All the times when no one ever came to get me
All the nights when I was scared
And when it got too weird
It was the songs that saved my life
– The Songs That Saved My Life
Note: The photo of Mat and I taken at Old Kelly’s was taken by a professional photographer who happened to be in the audience. He was kind enough to take this photo and send it to me later. I do not remember his name.