I don’t remember exactly when, but the last time I saw Chris Hardee, he’d popped into the Boiled Owl Tavern while I was bartending, and we made the usual small talk. Thing is, when you had that conversation with him, he was always genuinely interested in what you were up to. You could tell him you were working on a new song or a painting or invented a novel approach to grocery shopping, and he would’ve actively listened, eyebrows peaked, mouth drawn up at the corners and ready to smile. He and I weren’t especially close –– friends, to be sure, but from antiquated social circles spun out over the past two decades –– so you could probably argue that we were barely more than a couple people who had short, pleasant conversations a few times a year at bars. But if that’s the case, why was I so sad to learn that he died?
Hardee passed away on Monday, June 3, from some sort of undiagnosed abdominal distress that had apparently been troubling him for a couple of weeks. His death hit me so hard because he was the kind of dude that if you met him once, you never forgot him, and he probably never forgot you. He was sweet and inspirational, delightfully weird, sincerely enthused, and unfailingly generous, especially with his money and time. He was wonderful to be around even if you were merely acquaintances. Imagine what it was like then to play music with him on a regular basis.
A gifted multi-instrumentalist who sang in a balmy, Lennon-esque tenor, Hardee lived and breathed music the way a bird lives and breathes sky. He was a creative genius with a vivid sonic tapestry inside his head, yet he kept a low profile, and his musical output, channeled through a long-running project called Alan, is not voluminous. Alan’s debut, the 2011 full-length The Universal Answer Is Both took something like seven years to complete, and he and his band –– bassist Greg Shark, engineer Adam Skokan-Guinn, and drummer Andy Weaver –– had finished only three of an intended 10 songs for Universal Answer’s follow-up, the bulk of it existing as “basic and scratch” tracks.
I interviewed Shark, Skokan-Guinn, and Weaver, and, and as their reminiscing touched on the crucial facets of Hardee’s life and personality, I recalled this one: It didn’t really matter if you were a good musician. Hardee figured out a way to make you feel like you were. He truly loved helping people paint their own pictures. “He did that for me,” Shark said. “He validated you –– I don’t know how else to say it, but it was in a spiritual, real kind of way.”
Weaver pointed out another essential piece of Chris Hardee. “He made you love whatever it was that was going on. He kept you in a moment, because that’s what he lived for: moments.
“He said, ‘Always write,’ ” Weaver added.
“Or paint,” said Skokan-Guinn, who went on to say that working on music was all Hardee did. “He was singular,” the engineer said. “The one thing that never changed about Chris was that he wanted everybody to experience what it was like to create, that there’s no feeling like playing music.”
Hardee’s wake is scheduled for Sun, Aug 18, at Shipping & Receiving, the day before what would’ve been his 41st birthday. His friends Kate McDougall and Tony Diaz are corralling friends and musicians who would like to speak or perform at the event, as well as gathering pictures for a slide show. If you would like to contribute in one way or another, the easiest way to do so is to contact Diaz on Facebook.
The band admits that they probably won’t have the album done by then, but finishing it is their way of honoring the memory of their friend.
“I know for a fact he would absolutely want us to finish the thing,” Skokan-Guinn said. “So however it gets finished, we’re going to finish it.”