These Are Not Fall Colors

As with all sensitive, fully realized human beings, Sam Jayne’s twitter game wasn’t too hot. He posted on the social media micro-blogging platform infrequently and, when he did, he didn’t do it exactly right. He posted random thoughts, usually divorced from trending topics, never promoted his music, and responded earnestly to ironic questions. In fact he didn’t seem to grasp that, if he ever wanted a follower count over a thousand, he was going to have to learn to attach his outrage to topical wagons/comets, weaponize his earnestness like a proper DIY munitionsist, or. at very least, level up (or down) from wry to cynical. He already had the requisite sense of absurdity for the last option, but seemed unwilling to have (or indulge) the meanstreak necessary to really break into Weird Twitter (or it’s later incarnations). He was funny and smart on the platform but not the kind of funny and smart that engenders “engagement.” When he occasionally wrote to me, I’d usually chuckle and think “haha oh Sam… I have no idea how I’m supposed to respond to that.” And then I wouldn’t.

Obviously I don’t feel super great about that right about now. 

Sam Jayne is dead at 46. Writing about his social media chops is inane bordering on grotesque. I just don’t know what else to say. We weren’t friends. I liked him and I think he liked me as far as that goes. But we were both bartenders and in bands and there were times that I’d be on a second drink at Clems before (I hope for both of us) the name and the face clicked. “Friendly acquaintances” feels inadequate considering the number of times we shot the shit but, especially seeing the raw pain that all his friends are currently going through and not wanting to be a grief parasite, acquaintance is the most I’m willing to claim. 

When I say “I don’t know what to say,” I mean it. I barely knew him and only have a passing familiarity with his post-Lync work. There are many, many people far better equipped to write about Sam Jayne as a person and as an artist. And undoubtedly they will. But I’m sad, and my friends are heartbroken, and this is a newsletter that talks about ‘90s/aughts indie more than just about anything else, so to not mourn would be wrong, I think. I don’t know. I’ll keep it brief.

Sam Jayne’s presence and art was a constant thread through the last few decades of a certain kind of guitar music made by and for a certain kind of people. The term “hope punk” is fucking dumb and thankfully is only applied to writing (AKA the medium for creative types without the chops or hair cool enough to play music), but Sam Jayne’s music, in both Lync and Love as Laughter, wasn’t for nihilists. It appealed to the kind of punk who shows up when you need them; Dead Moon tattoo havers, social workers and teachers who used to subscribe or write for Punk Planet, bartenders who studiously ignore the “no buybacks” rule. There’s so much boring music made by and for nice people, but that’s numbers not a hard rule. Sam’s sweetness came through his music, but it was an odd and rambunctious sweetness; which resulted in a library of songs just as off kilter and, yeah, hopeful. 

When Lync’s These Are Not Fall Colors came out in 1994, it felt like an embodiment of an aesthetic. The music coming out of Olympia, Washington was already revered by glitter ‘n’ glue DIY alt types, coast to coast, in every small college town exactly like the one I lived in at the time. Kill Rock Stars and K Records offered solutions to the problem Nirvana never meant to pose. We’d all, boys and girls alike, invested so much in barrettes and babydolls. But now the jocks were moving in next door. They were even at Fugazi and Bikini Kill shows. And Pavement had already started playing classic rock. What was needed was music that could give the thrill of the aforementioned bands, but with riffs esoteric enough to regain the sense of privacy that unpopularity, at its platonic ideal, grants. Combining the West Coast barn-collapsing hardcore denialism of Gravity Records, the East Coast skittish pop scrape of bands like Versus, and the oblique presentation of Fall fans planetwide, Lync were the most Olympia band a bunch of barely-post-teen grunge survivors could ever ask for. The name of the album was “These Are Not Fall Colors” for god’s sake. The act of transferring the vinyl album to crayon scrawled mixtape felt like gilding the lily. 

Of course, this is just how I remember it; that the refrain “I have trouble getting started” (From the song “turtle”) was being chanted from every DIY rooftop in every DIY municipality. All those years do flow together. I was just a nineteen year old in a town with no record store or zine depository. And I was drinking a lot of cough syrup. Because of mixtapes, I have a perhaps outsized memory of Fall Colors. The album’s first track “B” was, along with “Pennies to Save,” on every 90 minute tape in town. Of course I remember all these tapes including Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” and Versus’ “Bright Lights” as well, which is chronologically unlikely. And, looking on discogs at what else came out in 1994, there wasn’t exactly a shortage of mutter-to-shout dynamics. But I know the These Are Not Fall Colors was on heavy rotation at both indie punk houses in town, the girls one and the boys one, and, not even owning the CD till at least ‘96, I knew every song by osmosis. I remember the push and pull of Sam Jayne’s guitar and bassist James Bertram, the way they’d take turns providing the harsh or melodic, coming out of every bedroom boombox down every hall, which we’d all listen to because, invariably, the living room record player was busted. So, to me, and history be damned, Lync is the band that stays. One of many, sure, but those many are far outnumbered by what’s forgotten, so give or take the credit as due.

Listening to the album now, as I have, at least a few songs, a couple of times a year for the last twenty-five, I’m confident in reporting that shit holds up real nice. The way the bass drives and the guitar uses fuzz to (barely) hide the potency of the riffs underneath, the way the beat lurches underneath smothered and covered crashes, as if every stepping down on the high-hat pedal might be one that snaps the chain, the way the duel vocals approximate a breakup of old friends thrashed out over tin can telephones. If anything, time and thirty years of merely-ok noise pop has made these songs’ catchiness and durability more apparent. It’s no wonder that the record’s delicately gorgeous racket has filtered down through the years, and you can hear its echoes (or maybe, assuming the kids haven’t heard the original version yet, the echoes of its echoes) in half the squalling ‘n’ crying nu emo on Bandcamp. 

Plus, and still, “Pennies to Save” is just such a fucking jam. 

I could go on, but I won’t. Like I said, Sam Jayne’s friends and peers will take care of it. He was blessed enough to maintain friendships with some truly articulate motherfuckers. And I’m sorry for them for what this must be like. I’m bereaved, and dude and I smiled at each other over a Jameson shot and eight bills, plus tip, approximately three times a year at most. Approximately a lot less so during lockdown. Like everyone. Which I imagine, cumulatively (and not knowing any details), didn’t help. 

Sam Jayne is gone. I’m going to miss him, his presence, probably exponentially as the years go on. He had and has a lot of friends. He had a charming smile and was a good time to even near strangers. He made art that outlasted his body, which is an awful thing at this moment. But maybe it counts eventually. I don’t know. 

Anyway. Check out Sam Jayne’s music if you’re not familiar. Lync is my favorite but you may prefer Love is Laughter. I’ll be surprised if you don’t find something that works. And you know the drill; hug your friends, call your loved ones, respond to even your weird friends on social media, try your absolute best not to die, and, I guess, write your album appreciations sooner than later. You just never know.

Thanks for reading.

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