Or does it explode?

The latest in rock ‘n’ roll tragedy makes a great album bittersweet

Keri Carlson

Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Queen and even Iron Maiden have all declared, “Only the good die young.” It could easily be the slogan for rock ‘n’ roll. From suicide (Ian Curtis) to drug overdoses (Jimi Hendrix) to murder (Robert Johnson), the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle seems to come with the price of an early grave.

For any musician that has sparked a special connection with the listener, his or her death feels like that of a close friend. But there is something particularly crushing about musicians meeting their fate in a vehicle crash. Perhaps that explains why the music died the day the plane carrying Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens crashed after flying out of Clear Lake, Iowa. A crash, in a way, is more romantic. Bands endure hours of traveling, hustling from one gig to the next with little to no sleep, carrying on the tradition of rock.

The latest band to leave far too soon, The Exploding Hearts, ranks among the most heartbreaking of all rock tragedies. On July 20, driving home to Portland, Ore., from a show in San Francisco, the band’s van flipped, killing members Matthew “Matt Lock” Fitzgerald, Adam “Baby” Cox and Jeremy “Kid Killer” Gage. Terry Six was the only surviving member. All of the members were between the ages of 20 and 23. The band released their first full-length album, “Guitar Romantic,” in April. The compact disc caused a buzz on the West Coast and perked the interest of Lookout! Records.

Hopefully, The Exploding Hearts will not fade away and that buzz that had begun will only continue to get louder. “Guitar Romantic” would stand out as a great album if the accident never occurred; but somehow the album is even more special now. The fuzzed guitars bounce into devilish and rebellious choruses that make you want to steal parking signs and pump your fists out of a car sunroof. “Modern Kicks,” the album’s opener, is the greatest ode to the shrugged-shoulder attitude of 20-year-olds. The chant-along lyrics, “Hell is breakin’ loose she says I don’t mind” and “You wanna give give give but I don’t wanna take” perfectly capture post-secondary ennui. “Guitar Romantic” is mostly very sweet – the band sings of crushes and ex-girlfriends – but the songs are not coated with sugar, rather hyped up on Red Bulls and vodka.

If there is an upside to this ordeal, it’s that rock ‘n’ roll loves a sob story – maybe the band will get their own “Behind the Music” episode. As with many things in life, you have to lose something before you can truly appreciate it.

Keri Carlson welcomes comments at [email protected]