Rumor Has It
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
For the most part, I try to be optimistic about things, especially in this space, but I’m throwing in the towel on 2019. Putting it plainly, it was a hard year, marked by too much loss, no more so than at the end.
On Christmas Eve, Scott Hartwich, founder and owner of Hammerhead Coffee, passed away suddenly. Although Hartwich was not of the local music scene, he was so much more than just that guy responsible for introducing his Velvet Elvis blend to the world. He and his wife/partner Mary Burwell loved and lived and breathed Bellingham. They didn’t just eat eggs benedict at the Mount Bakery or shop at the Co-op or hit up the Farmers Market, they acted as evangelists for the town and people they loved. As well, they donated Hammerhead Coffee to just about every charitable cause or organization in town. That spirit certainly lives on in Mary, but it won’t be quite the same—at least not for a time—without her co-conspirator for good, Scott.
Like so many people, I met Scott randomly downtown, introduced by a mutual friend. And like everyone, I immediately warmed to his genial nature, which was tempered by just the right amount of saltiness. Mostly, though, his was a steady presence, deeply woven into the fabric of the community. It is easy to imagine him always being there. It’s hard to imagine him ever being gone.
What was already difficult only became more so less than a week later with word that beloved Bellingham and Seattle musician Elijah Nelson, longtime bassist for Black Breath, and before that a member of Lago Volunteers and Wizards of Wor, passed away in his sleep, just a couple of weeks after his 40th birthday.
As with Scott, the news is so shocking it is nearly impossible to believe.
Elijah was a kind, quirky, delightful wizard of a man who seemed to exist in a perpetually good mood that was somehow totally authentic. Despite his tall stature, the abundance of ginger hair held in place with one of his many headbands and an appearance that could be construed as imposing, Elijah made friends easily, pretty much everywhere he went. The only places he ever exhibited anything resembling aggression were onstage with Black Breath and when he was manhandling a pinball machine.
I’m not sure what Elijah loved more, music or pinball, but I would never wish to make him choose. A fair number of Seattle’s pinball machines—and some in Bellingham as well—bear his nigh-unbeatable high scores at the top, along with the ELF moniker that announced the wizard been there and conquered all. Many truly lovely and heartbroken tributes have poured in from his friends since his death, including one that says, “If I ever see someone about to knock ELF off the Grand Champ score on any machine I will absolutely slam tilt your game.” Seems a fitting way to honor a real-life wizard.