Greatly Sadden by the news Yesterday of one of the Bay Area's most prolific Punk Musicians, Sarah ( Mike) Kirsch's passing after a long fight with a rare bone Marrow disease.
When I moved to the Bay Area in 1992, Three years after the 1989 Earthquake that shook and emptied out a lot of San Francisco, the Bay area still had retained it's role as beacon for the United States Punk culture from the 1980's - the dotcom boom hadn't transformed the city so rent was cheap and people congregated here from all over the US to work at punk Institutions like Maximum Rock'n'Roll ( Where Sarah reviewed records under the moniker "Mick Krash"), see and Make bands and play at 924 Gilman Street have their records distributed by, volunteer time or just hang out at Blacklist Mailorder and Epicenter, and maybe try to get a job or record deal with Lookout Records or Mordam Distribution. Sarah's Bands touched on and were part of the evolution of all of those Bay Area standbys and were a constant within them, and later her bands became a cornerstone, if not part of the foundation of Goleta, California's vital Ebullition Records Label and distribution who released Sawhorse, Torches to Rome, Bread and circuits, and most recently a retrospective of one of her most short lived, but most loved projects, the frenetic 1990's hardcore band John Henry West.
One thing: Posting a bunch of Youtube clips of Sarah band's fails to capture is the lyrical intent of the bands Sarah did never waivered, it grew more political, it grew more emotional and meaningful in that intent with each band. That something that MP3's and grainy live video don't often carry over- the impact of the lyric sheet and artwork that conveys that and seals that deal. In the past ten years or so, a lot of punk has sloughed off it's 90's political impact, I think Sarah's projects retained an as fervent fanbase as much for great music as it's unwaivering committment to it's progressive ideals.
If you read MRR every month for years before moving halfway accross the country, there's something comforting about the familiarty of " Oh yeah, I've read that person's name in the shitworker column of MRR" when meeting a whole new slate of people, and Sarah was always very welcoming and incredibly friendly in a way the Apparent anger in his bands might not suggest. As years went by and people from that 90's scene faded into having real lives, moving away and moving on, there was always respect and joy when I'd run into her. "Yeah still at it." The Bay Area Punk scene has changed a lot since that time, but it's still gigantic enough to support a wide variety of compartmentalized micro-scenes that can go a year or two without criss-crossing.
Sarah worked Organizational Service jobs to get by ( Hilariously, One of the things I remember was going to his place in the Mission in the mid 90's and seeing the way she neatly folded and stored her t-shirts band design out- so they could be easily chosen for wear, and it's how I've folded and stored my band T-shirts ever since.), but the more important focus was she always had new band projects going, records coming out.
A brief stint on 2 Ep's of the Aaron Cometbus envisioned "Pinhead Gunpowder" is one of the first things people have mentioned in rememberances, and indeed the gruffness of Mike's vocals and searing guitar was obviously absent as a contrast and counter balance to Billie Joe from Green Day's vocals/ Playing once she left the band. Really, the Second Pinhead Gunpowder "Fahizah" 7" is one of the greatest Gilman Street era / Lookout Records ( even though I don't remember ever seeing the band around the time it came out), because the Scruffy punkiness of the early "Gilman Sound" of Crimpshrine and Monsula gets cleaned up and filtered with pop-punk sheen of Green Day but is then cut with Mike's abrasive and assertive vocals which gave Aaron's lyrics great resonance.
I regret Not seizing more opportunities to see Sarah's more recent bands of the last ten years- Please Inform the Captain This is a Hiijack, Baader Brains and the Mothercountry Motherfuckers, who's musical motifs retained a lot of the classic Kirsch moves but the scale grew more ambitious with video projection, interesting Devo / men's recovery project-styled costumes and more of a live "show" that the bands seemed to play a little less frequently, and as I said, scenes can go years without crisscrossing, shows of different scenes end up conflicting with each other. Baader Brains Just had a new record " New Era Hope Colony" 12" finally released on Ebullition / Clean Plate in October.
Sarah left such a huge legacy and enormous wealth of recorded Material, But the huge loss for the Bay Area and world Punk Community is really hard to express, as it's lost a special and unique person who offered one of it's most prolific and constant voices.R.I.P.