I walked upstairs to the backstage, not in a great mood.
It had been a long miserable travel day to Kiel, 8 hours on an Autobahn that slowed to a crawl every 80 kilometers due to construction.
The old soda delivery van we traveled in had no air conditioning, a single rear window.
We took turns at the window seat to stare out at the baking sunflowers and the neon vested roadworkers who would slow us down yet again.
We finally got to the club and loaded in, too late for a soundcheck.
We all wandered off in different directions, finally free of being in a space the size of a refrigerator box with four other oversized men.
We would play this gig, load up again and get a couple hours on the road toward Berlin before sleeping somewhere.
It was one of those nights when you have to ask yourself just why, exactly, are you are doing this.
I walked into the dresssing room and there sat Ken at the catering table, picking through the fatty meats and sweating cheeses.
He looked up, registered my dark mood, then started to plaster himself with slices of deli.
Mike, he says. It’s Good-ah to see you!
And here he points at to himself.
Gouda—eh? You get it?
Anything for a laugh.
We first met Chi way back.
Summer of 1983 we cut back West through Canada.
A gig in Toronto with Youth Brigade then meeting up with our old pals in Stretchmarks, Winnipeg.
We set off toward Edmonton with hangovers, those hardy Canadiens feeding us Extra Old Stock malt liquors all night for their wicked amusement.
Ken was young then, great fucking hair.
We had the half Asian thing in common, and chatted about that a bit.
I remember the night after the gig he came and hung out with us as we did our wash at some Edmonton laundromat, took us to a cheap place he knew for lunch.
He sat in the blue and white while we waited for the dry cycle to finish, thumbing through Jay’s pro wrestling magazines. I believe he wanted to be in the van when we shut the doors.
Ready to go on to Vancouver, onto somewhere, anywhere, more exciting than another dull weeknight in a prairie town.
He was a kid to us, but totally into the music and lifestyle we seemed to be only taking half seriously in comparison,
For when he took to the stage, it was energy unleashed.
You’ve seen the photos, Chi rarely with two feet planted upon the stage. It was as if laws of gravity didn’t apply to him.
It was a meter above the Earth that he was more comfortable, singing those pun driven lyrics with a surprisingly clear tenor.
We caught up a few other times through the years, when they would come through LA, SNFU rightfully eclipsing our band in popularity.
2009 Düsseldorf we shared a bill once again.
A grand night, Adolescents and The Dickies, DOA, SNFU and us.
I walked backstage and said my hellos, Joey Shithead eating some backstage pasta, Anthony and Soto chatting over the bar.
I saw Ken, and I think it was the first time I encountered him in the Mr. Pig persona.
He came right over and gave me a sweaty hug.
I held him at arms length.
Jesus, kid, I said. What the hell happened to you?
And indeed, this last decade, he did look rough.
The drugs and mental demons seeming to pull ahead of him.
Not that it came as a surprise, the social media posts seem to all start off with, before repeating the news of his passing.
And that’s the fucking heartbreaker, right there.
He flipped his dentures over in his mouth and cackled, took off into the club.
It was the usual clusterfuck after the gig, all the bands loading up in the darkness, drum hardware and amp heads slotted Tetris-like into the back of Sprinter vans.
Tour routes compared, we’d see some of these guys in a few days for another gig, probably catch up with everyone again at Rebellion.
I found Chi wandering around, said goodbye.
He laughed again, another damp hug, then went past me and fell to his knees behind DOA’s tour van.
He pointed at the towing ball mounted beneath the bumper and laughed, then actually put his mouth around the filthy thing.
Look Mike, I’m sucking the chrome off a trailer hitch!
Anything for a laugh.