Thirty-three years old is too damn young to die.
That's what keeps running through my head when I think about the passing of Sidney Copeland, the proprietor of stalwart punk rock bar Jugheads on McDowell Road in Phoenix. I never got to know the guy, but the shock of losing someone so young has sent repercussions throughout the punk rock community, leaving a wake of tears and shared memories, as evidenced by the memorial benefit show held last Saturday after his funeral.
Sid had a fatal heart attack while lifting weights at his local gym on the morning of Saturday, April 22. My phone started ringing that afternoon, and as I sat at the Real Bar downing drinks with Billy Culbertson from the Liar's Handshake, the tragedy seemed to weigh on everyone in the joint. Within the punk rock community, word spread like a virus. About the same time we were toasting his passing, the first post on AZPunk.com's message board appeared -- a note from Jeremy Stokes of Reason for Nothing expressing sorrow and disbelief.
Sid leaves behind his wife of eight years, Tonya, and three young children, ranging in age from 19 months to 9 years old. He also leaves behind a multitude of bands that he'd booked, encouraged, paid fairly, and welcomed into an extended family that called Jugheads home. Many of these bands, including the Liar's Handshake, the Smoky Mountain Skullbusters, the Fuck You Ups, the Last Action Zeroes, Casket Life, Family Secret, Bring Your Own Weapon, and many more, showed up at Jugheads to rock out in honor of Sid last Saturday.
In the days since Sid's passing, I've gotten to know him through a multitude of conversations with people in the punk rock scene whose lives he touched and who were eager to share memories of him -- most of all, his wife, Tonya. "He was so kindhearted, so giving, so willing to do anything for anybody," she tells me. "He was the kind of guy that if you owed him money and showed up six months later, he was just glad to see you.
"He wanted to give people advice when they were going through a divorce or when they had problems," she adds.
Ari Peress, a Jugheads regular, knows this as well as anyone. When he went through a painful divorce several years ago, he found solace in the punk rock scene, and Jugheads in particular. As the first anniversary of his divorce rolled around, Sid offered to help cheer him up by throwing a party for the occasion, which continued last year on the second anniversary. "I can't begin to tell you how much that night meant to me," he says, "and how thankful I felt to be fortunate to have found people like the ones that came to enjoy Sid's and each other's company at Jugheads."
The most disturbing part of Sid's passing is that he knew that his death was impending, according to Tonya. "He told me not once, but three times last week that he was going to die," she tells me. "I thought he was being dramatic about it. I didn't take it seriously. Now that it happened, I know that's why he repeated himself three times, to make sure I knew what he wanted. And I'm glad that he did."
According to Tonya, Sid hadn't felt well in a few weeks, but was completely unaware of the cause. She tells me that the autopsy revealed that high blood pressure and an enlarged heart were the cause of his cardiac arrest. "He tried to tell himself that he wasn't sick -- he figured he could up his vitamins, push his workouts more."
Tragically, like many guys (myself included), Sid wasn't into doctors, and didn't have health insurance. But his eerie premonition was fortuitous in the fact that he prepared his bar and his family to carry on after his passing. Less than a month ago, Tonya opened her own business venture, Tonya's Tots, on Scottsdale Road and Weber Drive in Tempe. It is, as she describes it, a "baby Buffalo Exchange," a place where you can buy, sell, or trade high chairs, cribs, toys and the like. But per Sid's wishes, Tonya is sacrificing her endeavor to carry on her husband's legacy at Jugheads.
"Because I know he was prepared for it, it makes me stronger because I think he knew that I'd be this strong, and that I would be able to carry out his dream. 'Take care of that bar, let Jugheads be Jugheads the same way it was always. When the time comes, give it to my son, let him carry it on as well.'"
It's hard to overestimate the sorrowful impact that Sid Copeland's death has had on musicians and patrons throughout the Valley. Drea Gonzales, of the bands My Doll and The Dames, played her first show with My Doll at Jugheads. "I can't explain how nervous I was, but Sid must have seen the expression on my face," she says. "Whether it was a crowded night or an empty room, Sid made sure that I was having a good time." True to form, that good-time insurance included once throwing Drea into the air for impromptu crowd surfing on a drunken night while she was playing with The Dames.
"For all the bar owners I've ever met, he's the most punk rock. He was really down for our scene," she says. Drea saw Sid on the Thursday before he passed away, while My Doll was at Jugheads having a photo shoot for its upcoming new CD.
Chris Lawson, one of the three proprietors of AZPunk.com, has been instrumental in organizing the benefit shows, setting up a donation account for Sid's family, and launching the Web site www.VivaSid.com. "Out of any other venue in town, AZPunk's relationship [with Jugheads] was truly symbiotic," Chris tells me. "That became evident to the three of us when Sid started including 'Visit AZPunk.com' in his New Times ads. We didn't ask him to do that, nor did we have any idea until we saw it in print. That was the type of guy Sid was. We shared the same passion for promoting local music, and our love and respect for him grew from that."
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Local renaissance man Page the Village Idiot has a slot every Wednesday night performing at Jugheads. "Sid broke all the rules," he tells me. "He'd tell other club owners to book me, and would tell his patrons to go see me at Hollywood Alley. Sid must have introduced me to 200 different bands. He did more for music networking than MySpace.com, and he did it with a big heart.
"Last Wednesday, Sid said goodbye to me like three times as I was leaving. I didn't think much of it at the time, but it really was goodbye."
When Sid Copeland opened Jugheads in 1998, he was trying to fill an absence that he saw in the local bar scene, to provide a real punk rock bar for bands and fans. Now, the question on many people's minds is what will happen to the punk rock mecca that Sid founded. Tonya's answer is, "Jugheads must go on."
Despite his passing and the sorrow that it's borne in multitudes of music lovers throughout the Valley, it's heartening to know that Jugheads will continue to be a home away from home for punk rockers and musicians. "He wanted Jugheads to go on. Jugheads must go on," Tonya tells me. "I will carry on his dream. I'm going to do everything he wanted to do, because that's what he asked me to do."