This piece is not an obituary or memorial. It is not a news story either. Tragedy affects us all in different ways, and I am writing to try to process what happened in Seattle, Washington on May 30, 2012 and understand how the local music scene was affected by the loss of two of its musicians. Seattle is the city I have spent most of my life in, and for me the Cafe Racer shootings hit very close to home.
I could start by trying to prove that I am allowed to be upset because of my proximity to the event. I could say how I drove past the cafe every time I went to visit my parents in the neighborhood I grew up in, or I could list the number of people who I knew who had friends who knew the victims. All this would schdo is make the tragedy about me and how I was affected personally. In these situations of chaos and tragedy, once one gets outside the immediate circle of relation, the rest of us are left with the need to justify why we are upset, as if we require a reason to care. This city is my home. Innocent people tragically lost their lives. What more justification is needed?
As someone who never frequented Cafe Racer, I will do my best to paint a picture of the setting. From my understanding, Cafe Racer was more than just a place to get coffee and hot dogs. The cafe was full of local music and art. The staff and regulars were welcoming, kind people. People went there to work on their novels, get coffee before work, and finish homework late at night. No one could’ve predicted the devastation that would occur there.
One of the bands that regularly played Thursdays at Cafe Racer, God’s Favorite Beefcake, lost two of its members in the shooting. Drew Keriakedes and Joe Albanese were mainstays of the cafe and Seattle’s eccentric folk-vaudeville scene. Their lives and the other victims lives–Don Largen, Kimberly Layfield and Gloria Leonidas–have been celebrated through music. As the sun began to set on the day of the senseless killings, musicians gathered in the street around the cafe to pay tribute to those who lost their lives. Grant Brissey, a writer for Seattle’s alternative newspaper The Stranger, described the scene as a “defiant celebration in the face of tragedy.”
Since that fateful night there have been a number of tribute shows for the victims, as well as fundraisers for their families. The fact that there are still more concerts planned demonstrates just how many bands and musicians were affected by the loss of their compatriots. I attended “Innocent When You Dream” on Tuesday 6/19, which was a large fundraising concert spanning two bars in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, The Tractor and Conor Byrne. Raising money was not the only objective, though. The cover was $10, but according to the Facebook event page, no one would be turned away for lack of funds. This night was an opportunity for mourning as well as celebration, and everybody was welcome.
The music started at 5 p.m. and was still going strong when I left around 11:30 p.m. I chose to stay at Conor Byrne the whole night, but there were plenty of people hopping between venues in order to see their favorite local acts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people in suit vests and hats all in one place before! I was struck by the strong sense of family and camaraderie displayed by the people who had gathered at the bar. Some people were there to perform and others were there to be supportive. In one way or another everyone needed love and support. The environment was one of openness without judgement or qualifications.
The first performance I saw was God’s Favorite Beefcake, who introduced themselves as “Mom’s Favorite Sex Tape.” The bawdiness of the name proved to be characteristic of their songs’ lyrics as well as the musicians’ on-stage banter. There was also a through line of humor and humility that lasted the whole night. Life is too precious and short to take things so seriously, a concept that everyone in the bar that night understood.
God’s Favorite Beefcake is the type of band that utilizes an eclectic variety of instruments. There was an accordion, violin, clarinet and trombone, which are all fairly common among the band members. I was impressed to see a woman playing the spoons and another playing the musical saw. These talented musicians wove each instrument’s unique sound together to produce haunting melodies as well as raucous drinking songs where the whole crowd joined in and sang along, with so much dancing and stomping. It was oddly prescient how many of the songs, all written prior to the shootings, seemed to be personal eulogies for the lost band members. The foresight on the song “Hello G’bye” gave me chills, with lines like “Hello my friends, I came by to say farewell / It’s been nice to know you, and I’ll see you all in Hell.” What struck me most was the skewed sentimentality conveyed by the line “Isn’t life a beautiful train wreck?” After all, the ability to see beauty through the pain will help us all heal our wounds.
That night the music was raw, and the drinks were potent. One member of the crowd yelled, “Drew and Joe will never be forgotten!” and the room erupted with cheers as people’s eyes began to tear up. Or maybe that was me holding back tears, profoundly moved by the resilience of the community and the vigorous desire to celebrate life. I just wished that I had known the words to the songs and could have sung along as I swayed back and forth to the music. This article is about just that; perhaps this will prompt more people to read about and listen to the band that affected the Seattle music scene so greatly.