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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”