Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kael

Back in the early days of IfIHadAHiFi, we very often found ourselves in the deceptively sleepy burg of Manitowoc, a town full of kids that were suddenly without a Concert Cafe in Green Bay at which to see punk rock shows. Some kids in town were booking shows at an all-ages venue called The Attic, and for some reason we were in demand. The shows we played in Manitowoc still rank as some of the zaniest, craziest times we ever spent on stage, and a big source of that wackiness was a local band of high school kids called The Basics and their friends.

One of those Basics kids was a dude named Kael Klassen. Not once did we ever see this guy raging at anything less than 150%, dancing and thrashing around like a fiend for any band he loved, which was usually every band. He'd greet the end of a song with a loud "MEATWAAAAAD!" which made absolutely no sense, which was why it was hilarious. And Kael was always hilarious, all of the time. And he loved our band, which meant we heard "MEATWAAAAAD!" a lot.

Here's my favorite Kael Klassen story:

In 2006, The HiFi were on a tour of the South and East Coast, and it was going, to be generous, poorly. No one was coming out to see us, and many of the venues we were playing hadn't made much of an effort to promote. To compound things, my girlfriend had moved to Florida to go to school the year before and we had since broken up, and i spent the entire tour questioning that decision. What the hell was i doing driving around in a van with three other guys, playing to three apathetic people a night, when i could have moved to Florida and kept my relationship going? I was having some miserable nights on tour and was not enjoying myself.

Eventually, we ended up in Long Island, playing an all-ages show at a VFW hall. I had gotten an email from an old pal saying he was going to make it to the show, which surprised me because i had no idea he was in New York to begin with. I assumed his intentions were pure, but like so many shows where out of town friends promise to represent, i expected disappointment and a "oh, something came up" excuse. But sure enough, after we loaded in to the hall and were aimlessly standing around, we suddenly heard a familiar cry behind us. "MEATWAAAAAD!" We turned around, and there was Kael, in possession of a bottle of whiskey and his familiar ear-to-ear smile. "Where are we drinking this?"

When a nobody rock band goes out on tour, familiar faces mean the world, because the DIY touring circuit is a harsh, cruel place filled with bar patrons that are too cool for the room, and so-called "music fans" that leave the room and head back to the bar as soon as their friends in the local band leave the stage. We found out that Kael was attending culinary school in upstate New York, and had taken four hours' worth of various trains, buses, and cabs to get to the Eastern tip of Long Island to see us play. He almost singlehandedly made the entire tour worth it. I know he saved the tour for me.

That was the last time i hung out with him in person. About once a year i'd get an email from him at about three in the morning that said something like "DUUUUUUDE! I miss HiFi so bad! Come play my birthday party in South Carolina! I'll pay you $300!" Assuming he was drunk and hyper, I'd always email him back and remind him that we loved him, but rockers with day jobs can't exactly go out on two-day tours that span 1000 miles.

As soon as i heard that he passed away last Friday, at the obscene and unfair age of 29, i immediately wished that we had gotten swept up in Kael's devil-may-care spirit a little more often and gone on one of those spontaneous road trips he wanted us to take. While i hadn't seen him in years, it always set my mind at ease knowing he was out there somewhere, making the world a little bit weirder, a lot crazier, and hopefully still screaming "MEATWAAAAAD!" at bands. If i could talk to him now, i'd tell him that making friends like him is the reason why people start rock bands. And i'd tell him "thank you" for absolutely everything that made him the unforgettable soul he was. Wherever you are, Kael, i hope you're tearing it up with the same passion i saw in you as you tore through life. You burned bright and fast here on Earth, but now you're somewhere you can burn as bright as you want until you're the last star in the sky. Thanks for the memories, pal--and all the whiskey, too.

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