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Tragic tune

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The shocking and devastatingly sad news reached me, as so much does these days, via a music listserv. Richmond, Va.-based musician Bryan Harvey and his family--his wife Kathryn and his two young daughters, Stella and Ruby--were found murdered in their home on New Year's Day.

Fifteen years ago, I did an interview with Bryan Harvey, who was then half of the gifted and ruckus-raising folk-rock duo House of Freaks. It was only the second interview that I had ever done, and I was tongue-tied and drooling and altogether terrible. He couldn't have been more patient and kind. That phone conversation took place between the House of Freaks records Tantilla and Cakewalk (the latter once memorably described as "the White Album as produced by Howard Finster"), and Harvey and HoF mate Johnny Hott played at Cat's Cradle not all that long after. I wandered over to Harvey after the show, introduced myself to him as the guy who had done the phone interview with him, and, being nothing if not a nerd, gave him a mix tape I'd made for him. Again, he couldn't have been nicer, even though he most likely wasn't in the best mood because the show was sparsely attended. He took time to read the title and artist for every song on the tape. I distinctly remember him saying, "Cool, a Steve Wynn song. We're going to be doing some recording with him," a comment that resonated because he and Hott went on to form the guitar-rock super-ish group Gutterball with Wynn.

Tantilla is a record that drifts on and off my Desert Island list. It's a concept album of sorts about the American South, tackling along the way barroom-trouble topics such as religion and racism with the scrutinizing eye of returning expatriates, and it's lovely, spirited, and maybe just a little bit creepy. The good people at Rhino Handmade re-released it in 2004 along with its predecessor Monkey on a Chain Gang, and in truly one of my biggest writing thrills, I got to review those reissues for the magazine No Depression. I secretly hoped that Bryan Harvey had somehow seen the review, thinking that he might like to know that there was somebody out there--and I'm positive I'm far from alone--who continued to be stirred by something that he'd created a decade and a half ago.

Two 28-year-olds have been arrested for the murders of the Harvey family as well as for a triple murder that took place in Richmond several days later. In both cases, the motive appears to be robbery, which makes these beyond-tragic events even more senseless, if that's possible. The article that details the arrest ends with a longtime friend of Harvey's commenting on him, and you can feel the tears being choked back as the friend offers, simply and poignantly, "He was a great dad."

Yes, that sounds exactly like the guy who was so affable, so encouraging 15 years ago. May he and his family rest in peace.

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