The immediate outpouring of grief for Calgary musician Christopher Reimer upon news of his sudden death Tuesday was as overwhelming as it was telling.
From social media sites to music blogs to personal conversations, family, friends and fans from all of the world began to share their memories and pay their respects to the 26-year-old, who affected their lives, either personally or with the incredibly rich musical legacy he left behind with his work in such acts as Women and Azeda Booth.
“It’s incredible to see,” says a still shaken Ian Russell, friend of the late guitarist as well as the man behind Calgary-based Flemish Eye record label, which released Women’s two critically acclaimed noise pop albums in Canada.
“I knew that Chris had touched a great deal of people but it definitely made it clear.”
Reimer passed away in his sleep Tuesday, the cause of his death unknown, but, according to Russell, the musician suffered from heart arrhythmia, which was diagnosed last year, as well as sleep apnea.
Memorial services have yet to be finalized, but an impromptu one was set to be held Wednesday night at Broken City, where members of the Calgary music community were to gather, mourn, remember and, possibly, make some music. Russell also says a more organized musical celebration of Reimer’s life will also take place in the near future.
As for a lasting memorial to the artist, his family is planning on setting up a music bursary and his sister, Nikki, has started a blog (christopherjohnjosephreimer.com), where others are encouraged to post photos, and share their memories and thoughts about the man and his infinite talents.
Of those, Russell has many, having known Reimer for almost a decade, when he performed in Red Deer on a bill with the band Veritas, a high school precursor to Women — the four members had met in Grade 6 and had been playing music with each other ever since.
“That was the first I’d ever seen or heard of them and I was totally blown away. They also showed up with a trunk completely filled with beer,” Russell says with a laugh, “I thought, ‘I like these guys.’”
Over the years, he got to know and like Reimer even more, on a professional level, having released Women’s 2008 self-titled debut and 2010’s Public Strain, which earned them global acclaim, thanks to distribution through the American label Jagjaguwar, and incessant touring before the band went on indefinite hiatus a year and a half ago. And more importantly, privately, hanging around and jamming together. “It took a long time,” Russell admits. “He was a hard nut in a lot of ways.”
Now, though, he remembers his friend as “a generous spirit” with an incredible sense of humour, especially when with the three other members of the band — brothers Patrick and Matt Flegel and Michael Wallace.
“He was really generous and accepting of other people,” Russell says. “And totally without pretence — he had no pretension at all. That was such a key thing about him.”
The acceptance of others, though, wasn’t something he apparently extended to himself and his own art, as Russell says Reimer was notoriously judgmental of his own work, despite his stunning skills, which recently, were harnessed by San Francisco band the Dodos and Neko Case for touring purposes, as well as for his own solo work.
“He was always so harshly critical about himself,” he says, noting that Reimer had amassed a wealth of experimental compositions and recordings, which he deemed unworthy of putting out to the world. “And we all kind of pushed him to send it to other labels and release it. He never did during his lifetime but I think a lot of that is going to have a lifetime afterwards. There are at least a couple of albums of his drone material that will see the light of day.”
Chad Van Gaalen, for one, is hoping it does. The Calgary musician produced both Women albums and toured with the band on numerous occasions, and not only considered Reimer a friend but also an influence on his own work.
“He definitely pushed me as an artist,” says Van Gaalen, who also was still stunned by the tragedy. “He inspired me. . . . We definitely fed off of each other as far finding sounds — he was definitely hungry for the same things. But he managed to translate them a lot better than I ever could. And that was always something that I admired about him, that he always managed to find beautiful things with not very much stuff. That’s true of any real artist is that they can break something down into a really simple form and find the beauty in it.”
He remembers Reimer casually sharing with him a 45-minute-long drone symphony that blew Van Gaalen away and, while discussing their similar approaches and thoughts on music, just being able to “geek out with on stupid ways to find stupid sounds.”
But, with the news so fresh, he also recalls, like Russell, someone who had been a big part of his life over the past decade, someone who had been to his house on countless occasions, someone who had been around for the birth of Van Gaalen’s two children, someone who was caring and giving and, again, someone with an incredibly quick wit.
“He was the ultimate jacka—, just like full joker,” Van Gaalen says, noting he’d last seen Reimer a month ago when they’d gone out for dinner. “He was also one of the easiest people to hang out with, super smart, whatever you wanted to talk about.”
And Van Gaalen hopes those things are as celebrated as Reimer’s talents, and that those things don’t get entirely lost in the outpouring of grief that his sudden passing has deservedly brought.
“It’s hard to have a sense of humour about it, but I just feel like if he was here right now, he’d be like, ‘Dude (lighten up).’ He’d definitely appreciate the sadness but I’m just trying to feel not too crazy about it. . . . He was totally like the (Andy) Kaufman of the bunch, you know what I mean? So he wouldn’t want me to be taking it this seriously in this kind of way.”
Van Gaalen pauses. “But it’s hard not to.”
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