A Death In The Family

When I drove up to the downtown Athens parking deck, as I do daily, on Friday, November 9 the manager of the deck said to me, “Things are a little crazy around here today. We had a suicide here this morning.” I told him, “Oh, man. That horrible. I’m so sorry.” This was at approximately 12:30 PM.

I text-messaged a friend of mine about what I had heard. She wrote back, “Please, please don’t let it be anyone we know.” At 3:00 PM she wrote me again: “Oh God, Gordon. It’s Ted Hafer.”

When I moved to Athens in 1989 it was for the music scene. Pretensions of attempting to get a college education aside, I knew exactly why I was here. The University of Georgia was the only college to which I applied. Certainly, the names “R.E.M.”, “Pylon”, “Love Tractor” and others informed my decision but it wasn’t just those bands music that drew me. It was what those bands, as the most visible exports, represented. And, of course, what they represented was a town where people were free to create their existence; a place where almost anything was possible but the impossible was still actively encouraged. I began driving up to Athens for shows my senior year of high school. At that time I was hungry for absolutely anything associated with Athens. Well, the Athens music scene, at least.

That same year there was a girl I knew at school who went by the name of Jake. Her real name was Samantha and I had known her since 8th grade. She had changed over the years from a very sweet, wholly Christian girl to a mohawked and safety-pinned punk rocker. One day she showed up at school with a completely shocking (this was 1989, remember) t-shirt with a priest on the front. I could tell she had gotten it from someone else because it was all broken-in and ripped up in a way that evinced a true wearing-out rather than a pre-meditating distressing. Although the print was all cracked up and somewhat faded I could still make out the name of the band: PORN ORCHARD. Right there in yellow and black. I asked her about her shirt and she said they were a punk band from Athens. And, of course, that’s all I needed to know.

Flash forward 18 years. It’s 2007 and Mike Turner and I hatch up an idea to re-release the sole Bar-B-Q Killers LP so I start tracking people down who were either directly or tangentially involved with the band. This leads me from engineer David Barbe to Bar-B-Q Killers drummer Arthur Johnson. Arthur now lived in Atlanta and, after speaking on the phone a few times, he tells me that he was regularly coming to Athens to play music with Ted Hafer. Nothing serious; just a couple of old friends playing late-night music in a room above The Grit. At this point, I still didn’t know Ted but definitely knew who he was, owned his records, had eaten in his restaurant tens of times. I had met him in passing at the Caledonia but never really spoken with him. The first night I met up with Arthur, Ted came over and sat down at our table for a minute and he and Arthur made plans for later that night. I had already discussed the possibility of doing a Bar-B-Q Killers DVD release so we mentioned that to Ted and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got some stuff that would be good for that. Let me look around and see where it is.”

We end our meeting and, although neither of them knew this, I was pretty much on cloud nine. Arthur was as nice as could be but I had been slightly hesitant about meeting Ted. I tried in total vanity to get him to call me or email me back when I was working on a Porn Orchard retrospective story for Flagpole. During that fruitless process I had gotten the idea that he thought I was dumb for pursuing the story or he had read some stuff I’d written and thought I was a little shit and wasn’t going to participate. Either way, I had a certain amount of trepidation. However, after a mere few minutes of speaking with him I just chalked it up to experience and knew that my fears had been totally unfounded. I never even mentioned it to him.

A few weeks later, sometime in late April or early May of this year, Arthur calls me and says, “Hey, I’m in town and we’re getting some drinks down at The Manhattan. You wanna meet us there?” Of course, my answer was yes and I finished up whatever bullshit I was busy with and headed down. At the table was Arthur, ex-Porn Orchard guitarist Curtiss Pernice (who I had already known for years; we worked at Wuxtry Records together in the mid-1990’s) and Ted. After a drink or so, Ted says to me, “We’re gonna go over to The Grit and watch old band videos. You wanna come?” Hell yes, I did! So, we did. Ted had a veritable treasure trove of video footage he had shot of Athens bands, original concept videos and just a lot of really cool, rare stuff. The VCR wasn’t working very well so we actually all sat around for a while talking while Ted fiddled with the machine trying to make it work. We only wound up watching a little bit of one video (a supremely bizarre, original Athens oddity named Apocalypse Warrior) and then called it a night. Before we split up, though, Ted handed me the video he had filmed of the Bar-B-Q Killers final show in 1989. Jokingly entitled “Death Throes” the video featured him, in geeky costume, doing a fake interview with the late Bar-B-Q Killers singer Laura Carter. Although I would see him intermittently around town in the months that followed that late-night above The Grit was the last time I ever hung out with Ted Hafer.

The video footage he provided was used to make a short-form video that was entered in the 2007 Sprockets Music Video Competition. It didn’t win anything but tons of people came up to us afterward and were totally happy to have seen it. I told them all that it was shot by Ted Hafer and we were damn lucky to have been able to get it.

None of this should read as if I was close friends with Ted. I wasn’t. I had only just begun to know him this year. And if the news of his death has affected me so strongly I cannot imagine the pain those close to him are going through.

Although I did not know him very well I was thrilled to be starting to know him. Ted was only 6 years older than me but was, like me, an Athens-lifer. That is, he had moved here, stayed through adulthood and built a life in this community. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard people say things like, “If I’m ever going to do anything with my life I’ve got to get out of Athens!” I’ve never understood this. For me, no place has ever felt as much like home as Athens and no place I’ve ever been fills me with thoughts of endless possibility the way Athens does. So, unless you have the desire to work in some industry that doesn’t have a presence in Athens then the only thing I can conclude from such a statement is that we’re on completely different wavelengths. Ted, obviously, knew of what was possible in Athens and, by all available accounts, was a humorous, forthright, and hard-working human being. Although his music is the part of his creative life that is the most interesting to me, what he and his wife made out of The Grit is truly stunning. It’s one thing for people all over the world to listen to your music (not that his music ever traveled that far) but it’s another thing entirely to have people from all over the world travel to a mid-sized town in Georgia to eat at your restaurant.

This is why the loss of Ted is a loss for every person his work and life ever touched. It’s a loss for the entire Athens arts and music scene. It’s a loss for anyone who might have ever met him, joked around, asked him questions about his band(s) or borrowed a video from him. After 18 years here in Athens I’ve come to think of those of us who have been here and made lives as a loose sort of family or, at the very least, a community. Some of us are closer with each other than others; some we see daily and other not for a year at a time. Some of us have been friends since we moved here and others have been here the whole time and we just met. Ted was one of these people.I’m not much of a believer in the accident of birth being the final arbiter of what constitutes family; I think everyone has 2 families: those they are born with and those they choose. That Ted chose to stay, live and thrive here in Athens means that, at some level, we shared certain values others, who do not share them, cannot understand. And in very real terms, and with no hesitation, his passing is a death in the family.

It seems impossible to even speculate on what was on Ted’s mind this past Friday morning. The only thing, for certain, was that it had affected him beyond the ability to see that a tomorrow existed. The thought of this man, who was so dearly loved by his friends and family, being in such irreversible pain breaks my heart.
The view one has from the north-west corner of the downtown Athens parking deck is of the west end of downtown. One can see City Hall, the 40 Watt Club, The Manhattan Cafe, Little Kings and The Morton Theater. And in autumn, when the trees are becoming bare, if one stretches his line of sight he can see the north ends of Hancock Avenue, Prince Avenue, Meigs Street and The Grit.

What Ted saw was his Athens. A town which is mourning the loss of him, the loss suffered by his family and one that may be meaner for his passing.

Porn Orchard cassette release Hit The Right People Hard from 1986.

MP3: Porn Orchard-Sledgehammer
MP3: Porn Orchard-This Reflex
MP3: Porn Orchard-Circles
MP3: Porn Orchard-Make Yourself Ugly
MP3: Porn Orchard-Blindly
MP3: Porn Orchard-Barbie
MP3: Porn Orchard-Way To Change The Way You Feel (bonus track)
MP3: Porn Orchard-Our Band (bonus track)

(Many, many thanks to Bang Bang Blog who provided these tracks back in April of this year.)

UPDATE 11/21/07: The following track is from a cassette compilation circa 1988. Thanks, Arthur!
MP3: Porn Orchard-Black Tidal Wave

If anyone out there has any photographs of Ted that they would like to see posted here please email them to 24hourpartypooper@gmail.com and I’ll put them here.
Photos from friends:

(From Ben Spraker: “[This is] from the last Roosevelt show at the 40 Watt. Ted would often go out in disguise and creep out his friends (who didn’t recognize him). He fooled me once before, but this night I just laughed and took his picture.”

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17 Responses to A Death In The Family

  1. John says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful post like this; surprisingly, though you remark that your exposure to Ted was limited, you have written more than I’m finding anywhere right now.

    I hadn’t spoken to Ted in years, and most of my interaction with him had been business-related (whether working at the Grit kitchen, helping him with some work at his house, being given a bit part in some crazy townie movie he was making, or driving out to the middle of nowhere to pick up the used bar that now resides in the “new” half of the Grit) – but Ted’s personality always shone through. As you said, even limited exposure to Ted was enough to win one over. I wasn’t even aware of Ted’s recent accident, that’s how removed I am from so much in Athens, but the news of his death hit me hard.

    You and I both know more than enough people who were very close to Ted. And I agree with you — his death stunned Carolyne and I, but we cannot begin to comprehend how much it hurts those who knew Ted well.

    Ted’s life touched so many people in Athens, across “cultural” barriers, that I can’t imagine the pall that hangs over the city right now.

    Thanks for this post, Gordon. Give my condolences to everyone in Athens.

    –John Britt

  2. Rich says:

    Lovely post, Gordon. I never met Ted, but it’s obvious he meant a lot to folks in Athens.

  3. hillary says:

    I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard people say things like, “If I’m ever going to do anything with my life I’ve got to get out of Athens!” I’ve never understood this. For me, no place has ever felt as much like home as Athens and no place I’ve ever been fills me with thoughts of endless possibility the way Athens does. So, unless you have the desire to work in some industry that doesn’t have a presence in Athens then the only thing I can conclude from such a statement is that we’re on completely different wavelengths.

    I wish I could put this whole paragraph on a t-shirt.

  4. Anonymous says:

    A simple and elegant tribute to Ted, his family, and this city. Your words are profoundly wise.

    Barrie Collins

  5. bopst says:

    I knew Ted when Porn Orchard would play with my band, The Alter Natives, in Richmond, Virginia. The first time we played Athens (with COC & Honor Role), Ted & Curtis were the first people we met. They were great guys and always were fun to see and hang out with. I’m sorry that he is no longer on the plain of existence. Ted was one of the good ones…

  6. Jayne says:

    Gordon, this was a really nice read, even for someone like me who didn’t know Ted at all.

    And I agree with Hillary, your thoughts about Athens were eloquently stated. It’s a nice reminder to those of us who just moved here because we felt a certain kinship with the town.

    My thoughts are with Ted’s family and friends.

  7. Rod Thomas says:

    Thanks for the nice tribute. I was fortunate to have known Ted for over 20 years. He worked for me for a few years and even did some recording with his band(s)in my building in the late 80’s,early 90’s. He was very creative and drew a few comics for us as well that we still have.
    He was a great guy with the brightest sense of humor of anyone I have ever known.
    Everything that you described about him being a “humorous,forthright hard working human being” was spot on. My condolences to his family and all who knew him.

  8. Becky Jordan says:

    Gordon, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting such beautiful words about my cousin Teddy, and, from everyone else who posted such thoughtful and kind words about him. This is a pure tragedy to our whole family and my heart breaks for his wife, Jessica and their two children. I love you Teddy and you will be deeply missed by me. Thanks for all the laughs!!!

  9. darrell healan says:

    wonderful words about a wonderful man.. like you i didn’t know him very well but i was a huge fan of porn orchard in my late teen years and remember vividly the shirt you speak of in your piece. It really is funny how things come to be. I never would have dreamed that one day I would have a son that would be in his daughter’s class at school and play soccer on the same team. I never got the guts up to approach him and tell him what a fan I was. I just saw him 10 days ago and really thought about it (it was the last soccer game of the season). I really wish I had now.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Very well written Gordon and this goes a long way in starting the healing process (I hope).

  11. HISCANE says:

    Thanks, Gordon. This is beautiful and moving. It’s what so many of us needed. We’re neighbors with Ted and Jessica, and are saddened so deeply to know we’ll never run into him again. Last I saw him was on Wednesday. It pains me to think that was the last time. He was always funny, and generous to us in these random ways, like leaving some Grit goodies on our front door last Christmas. And once, while we were pulling out of our driveway, he came cruising up the street real fast in that green boxy van and came close to hitting us. Later that evening, he left us a note on piece of paper bag, cut out neatly in a square: “Andrew, I AM SO SORRY. We were rushing to get home, and the kids were revolting in the back. I didn’t mean to cut you off. NEVER AGAIN!!! Call me at xxx-xxxx so I can apologize.” Incidentals like this led us to think of Ted as a quirkily sweet guy.

    Peace to all, and to Ted’s family especially.

    Andrew (and Cathy)

  12. Anonymous says:

    I worked at WUOG from 1984-1989, during that time I got to know and really like the guys from Porn Orchard. I remember Ted as a quiet, but very nice and down to earth guy. I haven’t seen Ted in probably 18 years, but I will always remember him and his band fondly.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for publishing such a lovely tribute. I have such fond memories of my life in Athens, which included hanging out at The Grit, both at The Station and in it’s current home.

    Athens has always been a heartbreakingly beautiful city to me, and this is the best time of the year to be there. May Ted’s family and community find solace in the earth’s gentle embrace.

  14. Joe E. says:

    The week I started Potsdam High School back in 1984, I was sitting in a study hall in Mr. Rudiger’s room listening to two seniors talk about a band they’d seen over the weekend. These seniors were Theo Cataforis and one of the Unsworths. I think the venue was Alger’s Pub and the band President Nignew. The focus of their conversation was the guitar player and adjectives they were using were along the lines of “fucking awesome”, “unreal”, and “Adrian Belew-ish”. The guitar player they were talking about was Ted Hafer. He’d graduated the year before but was still living and playing music in town. This is how the name Ted Hafer was introduced to me: a local legend.

    A year or so later, through mutual friends and similar interests, I found myself knowing Curtiss Pernice. Far too soon after we met, he decided to move to Athens and live with none other than Ted. I felt abandoned and seriously left out, but I managed to come down to stay with them the summer before my senior year. I experienced more those days than anyone would believe! The people I met that summer are still some of the most amazing and creative I’ll ever know. My life had finally begun in an explosion of sound and color. It was very hard to leave this crazy place.

    The morning after I graduated from high school I got in my car and drove back to Athens. I had to get back to my chosen home and family. For nearly four years, I lived (and toured) with Porn Orchard bearing witness to the creative energy and determination of three brilliant musical beings. I didn’t think a lot about my future in those days. Living in our house with that group of people, having that life, was enough. While a lot of legend is based on hearsay and rumor, in those years I grew to know Ted as a very real person, but all the legend’s claims were true. Creativity integrated with personality is larger than life.

    In the years since I moved out of The Freak House on Finley Street, I met a beautiful wife, created children and got a real job that puts me out of town most of the time. Porn Orchard disbanded in 1993 and Ted’s life followed a similar path to mine in that he married Jessica and they also made some children. In Ted’s case, however, he continued to pour energy into Athens by way of The Grit and dozens of music projects and relationships. In that way Ted became Athens and Athens became him. That is how he became something that so many people admired and respected: a man of substance.

    This week, everyone is experiencing the fallout from Ted’s departure. The turnout at his funeral and the words that are being posted on the Internet are amazing and enlightening even to those closest to him. Who knew he was so important to so many people? Did he have any idea? His influence and positive impact is widespread and deeply valued. When I think about this, I realize he’s returned to what he was to me the first time I heard his name: a local legend.

    The past and future are but a dream and do not exist. The only thing that is real is the present. That said, this present includes everything and everyone I have ever known in one big magnificent moment. In this moment that the Universe has granted me, Ted IS one of the coolest parts; a beautiful and indelible part.

  15. Shannon says:

    Do you know yet when the event to honor Ted will be held? I’d love to be there.

    There was a time when I lived in Athens that I’d go up to the roof of the parking deck to meditate on the view. It was the closest thing to having a mountain to climb right there in the middle of downtown. Ever just kind-of-sort-of-literally want to get on top of your thoughts? A change in elevation can sometimes make all of the disparate pieces of one’s life (or thoughts of a fragmented life) appear whole again, in all of their reconnectedness and sudden simultaneity. An eagle looking down from the mountain. All to say, I can appreciate what you wrote about what Ted might’ve seen that morning before he took that last bit of control in life through death.

    One thing in particular which makes your writings about Ted so refreshing is that you do not tiptoe around the subject of suicide out of some disingenuous respect for the family left behind. What is it with us human freakin’ beings that we get all shame-filled and reticent when a man takes his own life? Suicide is without question so lonely and tragic, so repellent, even violent; it goes against our own struggle to believe in being in this world. But,we act almost embarrassed and ashamed for the family left behind when we won’t even go up to them to say how sorry we are that this has happened. We should all remember not to assume we’re being respectful by saying nothing, or next to nothing. May your writing herald more tributes to Ted.

    I lived across the street from Ted for about three years. I can still see his penetrating glance when he’d wave his friendly hello. Try it, I bet you won’t be able to see just anyone’s eyes when you try to picture them in your mind.

    For anyone interested in some thoughtful reading about the subject of suicide, there’s bound to be a paperback edition of The Savage God: A Study of Suicide by poet Antonio Alvarez around.

    I’m sorry you left us, Ted. I will keep your family in my heart, my thoughts and my deeds.

  16. Nuçi's Space says:

    Thank-you so much Gordon… you did a great job. To any family and friends reading this – you are certainly in our thoughts.

  17. Nuçi's Space says:

    Thank-you so much Gordon… you did a great job. To any family and friends reading this – you are certainly in our thoughts.

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