RIP Makh Daniels

It’s not right. No one should die at 28, much less someone so vibrant. Part of me refuses to believe that Makh Daniels is gone, that I’ll never see him play again or get another of his emails that lit up my inbox with his spirit. Things were looking up for his band Early Graves. They were wrapping up a month-plus-long tour, and people were starting to notice them. But terrible news hit yesterday morning: a van accident had taken Daniels’ life.

Daniels’ death hits me personally and hard. He was always generous with me, donating his time with interview answers, a guest blog post, and guiding me around town for a Decibel feature I wrote (“Streetwise San Francisco”, September ‘10 issue, Refused cover). When I first met him, he immediately offered to buy me a drink. This was wrong – fans should buy bands drinks, not the other way around. But that was the kind of person he was.

No musician loved the road more than Daniels. He originally joined Apiary, Early Graves’ previous incarnation, because he wanted to be in a touring band. It didn’t matter which band it was, he just wanted to tour. I got the feeling he was running from something – Daniels drank too much and didn’t hide it – but the road also held purpose for him. He was homeless at one point, so the road may have been a home of sorts for him. He did not view Early Graves as a hobby. His goal was for it to become a full-time touring band.

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Those who see an irony in the name Early Graves are missing the point. Daniels’ lyrics are some of the bleakest penned since Black Flag. But it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and Daniels’ roar screamed life. He was not some death metal conjurer of morbidity; he was struggling to live. Metal band names are a thesaurus for “death”, but that does not constitute a death wish. Humans will never solve the problem of death, so it holds eternal fascination for them. Death-themed bands are merely groups of people grappling with that problem.

I would put Daniels up against any vocalist in extreme music in the past 10 years. In conversation, he was more of a listener than a talker – until he exploded into verbal riffs that were practically comedy sketches. You can hear these traits in his vocal delivery (and see them in his tour diaries). It’s very rhythmic, with a keen awareness of space – I believe Daniels studied creative writing – and Daniels could cook up a mean chorus. His bandmates provided riffs; Daniels provided songs. They have gotten me through some of my darkest hours. Think things are bad? Daniels has scraped lower, dug deeper, and melted the chunks down into gloriously throat-burning shots. Bottoms up!

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” comes to mind. Makh Daniels was one of “the best minds of my generation” who embodied suffering and celebration. After the first public reading of “Howl”, poet Michael McClure said, “[A] human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America”. The body may be broken, but the voice lives on.

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— Cosmo Lee