Thursday, November 28, 2013

R.I.P. HENRY HELLBENDER

Back in 1990 I was 18 years old and printing shirts for Mutilation Graphics in upstate New York. I put in long solitary hours late at night blasting music in the studio and when the shirts were dry (we used water based Unidye ink, not Plastisol bullshit), I would package up the orders and get them ready for shipment. We had a lot of regular customers and over the four years that I grinded it out with my pal Neil, some of our more enthusiastic supporters began to feel a bit like pen pals. One name that leapt out at me from the orders that streamed in every week was "Henry Hellbender." It was a cool pseudonym and I remember wondering what the hell this nut job was like in real life. Naturally, I forgot all about that name once we shut down the shop and sold our screens to some dudes in Oakland. I hopped a freight train and followed my muse to Portland, Oregon where I eventually laid down roots and have resided ever since. One day in 1995 I was in 2nd Avenue Records, back when it was a tiny little corner shop that could barely accommodate six people at once, when I literally bumped into a guy wearing a Mutilation Graphics shirt. We started chatting and shared an immediate camaraderie based primarily on abrasive music and underground art. He was one of the few guys I had met up to that point who understood the importance of Joe Coleman's paintings. He was also one of the few people I had met up to that point who could talk intelligently about Bathory while we both rummaged through the crust bins plucking up Masskontrol 7"s for $2. Imagine my surprise when, as we parted ways and realized we hadn't even introduced ourselves, he held out his hand and said, "I'm Henry. Henry Hellbender." We often ran into each other downtown after that day, usually at a sidewalk picnic table outside the bar or behind the counter at the relocated 2nd Avenue Records where he briefly held down the metal section. I didn't spend much time with him and never got to know him well, but somehow we always considered each other friends and he would surprise me with random e-mails that indicated he was keeping track of my shenanigans. Henry was the kind of soft spoken, knowledgable and uncompromising fan who embodied the purest principles of this thing I still lovingly call "the underground." He was an underground artist himself, mostly providing flyers for local institutions like Poison Idea and Wehrmacht, and in 1984 when Pushead published an article on how to be a punk artist in Maximum Rocknroll he wisely included Henry among such emerging luminaries as Mad Marc Rude, Jim Blanchard and Chet "XNO" Darmstaedter. I've heard it through reliable sources that Henry passed away quietly in his sleep earlier this week. I don't know the details and they don't really matter. All you need to know is that Henry was a quiet cornerstone of Portland's punk scene back when the punk scene in this town mattered. He understood the value of silence. And I'll miss him.

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