I was shocked and very sorry to learn that the day before yesterday my dear friend Robert Jenkins had been found dead his Boston apartment. My understanding is that he died peacefully of natural causes. Prior to moving to Boston several years ago he’d been a powerful presence in Seattle for decades, a wonderful friend and a busy, wildly inspiring musician. He left a huge, beautiful mark on this town. He was fierce and feral and sweet, easily among the most committed performers I’ve ever seen or performed with, and a beautifully moral and political being. He grew up in Olympia in the ’50s and ’60s and told me once about the shocking, wonderful experience of hearing the Sonics live as kid. An unmistakable piece of their raw energy stayed with him for the rest of life.
Robert—a.k.a. Bob, a.k.a Buzz Gundersun—played guitar using a silver dollar for a pick. He had an otherworldly timbral and expressive range with both guitar and voice, ranging from beautifully sweet to guttural monster-from-Hell. He played in a long list of projects including Audio Letter, Officer Down, Hells Smells, Tactile, the Nordstroms, New Art Orchestra, Mexicans, Baby JesusHitler, and more recently in Boston with Peyote Feminist. In the early ’90s he and his then sweetheart, Gits lead singer Mia Zapata, recorded a 7-inch featuring a haunting, gorgeous cover of the country song “Devil in the Bottle.”
He was master of amplifier feedback and taught himself overtone singing while working as a dishwasher, gargling with hydrogen peroxide when he wore his vocal cords raw from rigorous practicing. He did a series of lectures in a made up language and invented Alien Folk Music, which he performed in character as someone describing the sounds from outer space that keep him awake at night.
There are a million funny, amazing stories about Robert, and I hope someone writes a book someday. He didn’t talk much about his time fighting in Vietnam, but there’s no doubt that it effected him profoundly; he radiated an intense, generous morality and believed that no one had a right to dominate anyone else. The many hours I was lucky enough to spend with him taught me that playing music is a life-and-death struggle, the triumph of beauty, light, imagination, community, expression, fun, and wildness over the dreary and the wicked. One of the best kinds of luck is to have a friend who helps you understand that anything is possible.” —Eulogy for Robert Jenkins by Lori Goldston, posted to The Stranger’s music blog Line Out.