Heiko Schrepel’s Passing and One-Sided Adoration
Posted on April 30, 2015
April 30, 2015 | by Jordan Reisman
(photo: Juan Puente)
One Man Army/U.S. Bombs bassist Heiko Schrepel died on April 6. Schrepel was 39 and gathering from the sparse information found on comment threads and blog posts, died of major organ failure at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. One Man Army has been one of my favorite bands since high school, though they were more the type that I kept to myself because so few of my friends listened to them. When I read the post on Punknews.org, I experienced that gut reaction of my heart stopping for a second and said, “Aww, fuck.” I wasn’t destroyed nor was it something that I thought wouldn’t happen because frankly, Heiko dying wasn’t ever anything that I had considered. But like most deaths, it kind of sneaks up on you. Heiko Schrepel wasn’t really a household name which might be a blessing in disguise, because his family and friends can lay him to rest without a media frenzy. He was, however, loved by punks all across the world and me, for the time he spent in One Man Army. They broke up in 2005, reformed in 2011 and released a new EP in 2012, and I missed all of it.
I know of course that Heiko’s death has nothing to do with me, but in the case of somewhat public figures dying, I tend to connect it back to me and what I knew about them. He didn’t seem to be a lonely man when he died, he had lots of friends in the East Bay who cared for him. The only real publication who wrote about Schrepel’s death at length was SF Weekly who included some posts from his friends on his Facebook page in their piece. Jesse Michaels said he was “the most genetically punk rock person I have ever met” and Heather Gabel said about Schrepel, “So glad I got to be your friend. So sad you’re gone.” I recently saw The Suicide Machines and Break Anchor in New York and Jay Navarro even dedicated one of Break Anchor’s songs to Heiko, calling him a “beautiful soul.” He was a person whose impact in the punk community will not be forgotten so soon, at least not by those old enough to have had experienced One Man Army in their heyday.
What’s hard for me to get past is that One Man Army, and now Heiko, lived and died in a time that was just out of reach. They formed in 1996 (when I was 6), released their first record in 1998, came out with a string of full-lengths and EPs (my favorite being Last Word Spoken) and broke up proper in 2005. I could have been part of this, I suppose, but I was still in my introductory phase to punk rock and OMA was more of a nuanced band. You had to dig a little to find them. When my friend Mike from back home showed them to me in 2007, I felt like I had come upon an “insider’s band.” The Bouncing Souls were my favorite band and OMA was a band that they listened to; they were a punk band’s punk band, as it were. Their lyrics weren’t screamed or obscured, instead everyone will remember them for Jack Dalrymple’s beautiful rasp; full of romance and gritty tales of love and drinking. He’s even kept up a bit of a fandom over the years with punk rock devotees following him from his work in Dead to Me and now to toyGuitar. His voice is that good. And Heiko was right there with him.
Heiko always seemed like the perfect punk rock bassist. Look up old videos of OMA playing on YouTube (you might need to scroll back a few pages though, Our Lady Peace and RuneScape fucked them out of search hits), and you’ll see it. He had effortless style and the kind of stage presence that never seemed overly flashy or hammy. He jumped around, he stood on the monitor, he swung his bass in the air, and it all looked…cool. I almost think that punks from his generation and the one before, so-called “old punks,” have better style because they were creating what bands now think of as stage presence. He looked like a pirate up there—people knew him for his gold tooth and dangling bandanas—thrashing around his instrument with reckless abandon; in turn, making his style his own.
I’ve wrestled with the seemingly selfish idea of grieving over Heiko’s death from the one-sided relationship I had with him in admiring his band. The kind of adoration I have for him feels a little cheap because it was mostly through staring at screens. I feel sad over not having never seen One Man Army live and experiencing his presence firsthand, not having been there when Rumors and Headlines dropped, not having seen them with the Souls in 2001 at Irving Plaza. Like any devoted fan who got into a band too late, I had been waiting on a reunion show. Now that Heiko’s gone, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Back to YouTube, I guess.
It’s a certain feeling of loss for something you never experienced, and I feel this way all the time. The more I think about it though, I realize that a connection forged through music is still a special one. There’s something to be said for someone who can make me feel anything just through sound. Labeling myself “self-centered” and “selfish” won’t do me any good; in fact, it’ll only prove me right. I can only assume that Heiko saw his music as an inextricable part of himself, the thing that defined him. As it looks, most of the people that cared about him knew him from the music he made.
I don’t believe in heaven or really, the idea that we “go” anywhere after we die but as Jay Navarro said, he was a beautiful soul and I think that still counts for something. For the sake of wrapping up this little tribute, I hope that Heiko’s soul can live on for the punk rock hopefuls like me out there. As we all start to grow up and forget what punk originally meant to us, maybe Heiko’s passing can show us that even within a fragmented punk scene there still is something that unites us all. Rest in peace, Heiko Schrepel, I never knew you but some part of me feels like I did.