“I don’t have a favorite band,” I’ve often said, “but if I did, it would be House of Freaks.”
Yes, if you’ve lived with me, you’ve probably encountered my obsession with this band — brilliant music, inspired, literate lyrics, energy, beauty, honesty, a whole range of musical styles packed into just two musicians. Bryan Harvey sang and played guitar and Johnny Hott did percussion.
I had a crush on a girl in ninth grade, and while the crush didn’t last, one of the tapes she lent me, Cakewalk by House of Freaks, ended up changing my life. I bought everything of theirs I could find — every time I saw one of their five albums in record store bargain bins, I picked up. (And now I have at least 3 of each.) Random trinkets off of eBay: posters, a handkerchief, press packets. Early on, these all were hard to come by, as the CDs were out of print and the band was obscure. I paid more money for their first CD on eBay than I’ve paid for any other CD in my life.
Of course, the Freaks marked many, many moments in my life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened to their songs, lying on my bed in the dark, just amazed that such raw, potent, heartfelt music could exist and speak to me so perfectly. I know their albums so well now that I hardly need to listen to them — I just run my hands along a House of Freaks CD spine and am awash with lyrics and music and memories and it’s as if I’ve just listened to the whole thing in one punch.
As part of my Internet Freaks searches I came across their only fansite, run by a guy who knew Bryan. There was an “Ask Bryan” section, and if you asked a question he’d try to get Bryan to answer it sometime. Well I submitted a bunch and lo and behold Bryan responded to all of them, thoughtfully and with his trademark mixture of cynicism and sincerity. I must have read those responses fifty times, and treasured them endlessly. Then a few years later I happened to post a question about HoF on a totally different message board, and amazingly, soon after I got an email from Bryan himself, out of the blue; he had come across the posting, still remembered me from before, and graciously answered my question himself. Jesus. Such a small interaction and yet it had me smiling for days. How often does one of your favorite musicians drop you an email, unbidden?
I wrote the original Wikipedia entry on House of Freaks; nearly every mix CD I’ve ever made that means anything to me contains a Freaks song. At the same time, I often recommend music for my friends to listen to, but I almost never mention the Freaks… they’re just too personal to lump with the others. Such is my obsession.
About ten years ago, the duo broke up, though Bryan and Johnny remained good friends. Bryan started a family and settled in Richmond, VA, and that’s pretty much all I knew.
I was just about to go to sleep tonight when I saw this heartbreaking piece of news: on New Year’s Day 2006, Johnny stopped by the Harveys’ house for a cookout and found Bryan, his wife, and their two young daughters in the basement, bound, gagged, and beaten, their throats slit by wandering grifters.
My breath caught in my throat and I had to stop reading. But soon after I continued… an hour and many Internet articles later, I am even more devastated, because, it seems, his brilliance as a musician was only a sidepiece to their brilliance as a family.
There is a page set up in the local newspaper for people to record their memories of the Harveys, and it’s heartbreaking. There are over 500 of them, many from locals who knew the Harveys one way or another in day to day interaction.
You’re always afraid to learn too much about the personal lives of your musical heroes, because invariably you’ll be disappointed: great musicians are not often great people. So I knew very little of Bryan and his family. Well, go ahead and read a few of those pages of memories. He and his wife and daughters were angelic. Just the fact that so many of the memories are focused overwhelmingly on the family’s kindness, and not on Bryan’s music, is telling. The sheer number of people who were touched, and able to remember a specific act of kindness or a memorable interacton (rather than a generic “they were nice people”), speaks to how the Harveys were universally loved. Even if you are cynical about the revisionist tendencies of mourners, I challenge you to read a handful of those pages and tell me that this family was not amazing.
Anyway, I am exhausted and have no idea how to make this sound sensible or interesting or whatever the hell LJ entries are supposed to be. But the tragedy of these murders, and the goodness of the Harveys — if I could ever be near the person Bryan was, or have a family half as kind, talented, and loving as his, I’d consider myself more than blessed — well, it’s too much for words.