They were just four guys who knew how to party.
Formed in Portland, Oregon in late 2001, the band set off to form their own image of music - hints of The Clash, Nick Lowe, The Buzzcocks, The Clean, and Big Star rolled throughout - and emerged with what might possibly be the greatest power pop record of all time, The Blue Album and Rubber Soul notwithstanding.
When they first started, it was just a trio, Adam "Baby" Cox (guitar/vocals), Matthew "Matt Lock" Fitzgerald (bass), and Terry Six (lead guitar), along with their trusty drum machine. Taking in all of the trappings of 1980 rock style - the punk pompadour haircuts, oversized sunglasses, safety pin jewelry, and ripped sleeveless tees - they brought forth a form of music that has been missing from punk, pop, rock, whatever, for the last 20 years: sheer melodic genius. The band also started writing all of the songs they felt were missing from the great catalog of punk rock, releasing two singles on Vinyl Warning Records and Pelado Records, respectively. They continued to play in the area, getting quite a name for themselves as the shining diamond of indie rock today.
Finally earning a release with Seattle-based Dirtnap Records (and adding drummer Jeremy "Kid Killer" Gage), The Hearts stepped into the studio and brought 10 of their best licks forward, resulting in the May 2003 release Guitar Romantic. The album hit college radio and was immediately hailed as the saving grace of rock and roll. After all the garage nonsense, the new New Wave that never was, the electroclash phase, and the last dying breaths of emo, it was good to see that The Hearts were bringing it back to the basics - a four-piece band bringing all the right hooks and riffs to the table, singing about real heartbreak ("this song's a little upbeat, and a bit out of tune, just like this sad heart of mine" - the Hearts are particularly good at the Brian Wilson metaphor school of depth through simplicity) and all of the punk rock staples, sniffing glue, getting wildly drunk, meeting girls, and fighting the establishment. It was all there, and it hasn't been there since London Calling. Yeah, people are that excited about the whole deal.
After a brief scattershot tour of their local region and some bought and paid performances in Boston, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the Hearts finally went on a full-on West Coast tour, making several stops in Washington, Oregon, and California.
On July 21, 2003, while returning to Portland from a show in San Francisco, it appears that Fitzgerald, who was extremely tired, fell asleep at the wheel. As the band's van skidded into the gravel shoulder, Fitzgerald awoke, overcorrected, and caused the van to flip. He, along with lead singer Cox and drummer Gage - who had recently announced he was leaving the band - were killed instantly. Terry Six and the band's manager, Ratch Aronica, survived with minor injuries.
Often times it is the excess of rock n roll living that claims the brightest stars - Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, and the list goes on and on in the endless vicious circle. It is far sadder when the stars who have only begun to shine are stolen away by happenstance. The Exploding Hearts will always be the one big what might have been in my music book. They had charm, they had star power, and most importantly, they really were saviors of rock and roll - they convinced me and the rest of the jaded indie rock conglomerate that, yes, Virginia, there really is good music out there, and it would never really die, not on the empty roads of Interstate 5, not while riding the high of infecting another group of ladies and gentlemen with their particular brand of music bliss. Such was their naivete; such was their fate.