Remembering Karl Hendricks (1970–2017)

Karl Hendricks died last Saturday. My friend Jon Solomon posted the news that morning and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

He was the main force behind the Karl Hendricks Trio, a band that I first learned about in 1991, thanks a forgotten DJ on 88.7 WUJC (now WJCU), John Carroll University. For a couple of years I used to tape music off the radio, ’cause that’s the way I made mix tapes back then. I had an after-school job with a travel agency, delivering airline tickets (yep, I’m old), and I’d listen to these tapes in the car when there weren’t any good shows on the Cleveland-area college radio stations. This one particular tape had KH3 “Dead Flowers,” side 1, song 1. I listened to that song so many god damn times. I was way too young to have experienced that world-weariness and lovesickness — I was a suburban kid and I’d never even had a real girlfriend — but the earnest longing and bitterness in that song resonated like nothing I’d heard before.

Do you ever listen to me.
Do you ever hear what I’m sayin’?
I didn’t say I hate you.
I just said I hate everything.

(Side note: I unearthed this tape a couple years ago, and realized just how foundational it was for my next two decades of obsession. In addition to the KH3, here are some artists on there: Sonic Youth, The Wedding Present, Poster Children, Silkworm. Yeah, it was awesome. Thank fucking god for college radio.)

Post-delivery-shift, I’d often hit the used bins at CD Warehouse, and fortuitously I came across the first KH3 release, Buick Electra (looking back, I realize that spot must’ve been the dumping grounds for some of those college DJs trying to scrounge up a little extra scratch). I discovered that none of the other songs on the album sounded like “Dead Flowers,” but that was ok, because they were so goddamn good! So earnest, so plaintive, so emo! And those guitar solos, man, those fuzzy, crunchy guitar solos. I never missed another KH3 release after that.

I only met Karl once, about fourteen or so years ago, after his show at Great Scott, in Allston, MA. I think he was touring in support of the band’s recent album The Jerk Wins Again. I went with my friend Russ, as we found our venn diagram of indie rock adoration had the KH3 in the overlap. I talked with Karl briefly either before or after the show, I can’t remember. Neither of us said much — I’m sure I thanked him for his music, told him how important it was to me, and I’m sure he thanked me in return. That was it, barely memorable. I’d never seen him before, not even a picture, and I was surprised to learn he didn’t look like a “rock guy.” I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but whatever it connotes, Karl wasn’t it. He was remarkably…uncool. I don’t mean that as an insult — I mean he looked plain, like me. I remember thinking, “those sounds and those feelings came out of that guy?!”

I had one more chance to see Karl Hendricks perform, in October 2012, in New York City. I didn’t make it to the show because my first child was born almost exactly twenty-four hours before. I really, really, really wanted to try to make it (the venue was a mile from the hospital!), but I made the (wise) decision to stay with my son and wife in the hospital.

I was super bummed to miss the show, but I’m sure Karl would have understood.

What I didn’t know was that would be his last tour, and shortly after that he was diagnosed with oral cancer.

Thank you, Karl, for everything you gave to the world.

You keep on pretending it matters,
And I’ll keep singing about girls.

Here are a couple songs to end this:

This is the one that kicked it all off for me:

And this is in the running for perhaps the best rock song of all time: