After spending 48 hours being numb, Hawthorne Heights bassist Matt Ridenour finally decided that it was time to pay tribute to Casey Calvert, his fallen bandmate and best friend, whose body was discovered on the band's tour bus outside the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., over the weekend. So he got a tattoo on his right leg, one he was sure Calvert would have approved of.
"I got this," he smiled, rolling up his pant leg to reveal some fresh ink. "It's a grilled cheese and a Dr. Pepper, because that was his diet of choice, and '9:30' because that's the club where this all happened. And around it, it says, 'A piece of American History,' because that was something [Casey] said onstage once, in Texas, during his birthday.
"I saw him every day for five years, and then I took two days off," he added, pausing slightly. "And now I got this tattoo, so I'll be able to see him every day for the rest of my life."
It's a fitting way to honor Calvert, a guy described by everyone who knew him as a kindhearted, sweet kid who enjoyed making people laugh and wasn't afraid to look dumb in the process. It's so fitting, in fact, that all the guys in Hawthorne Heights plan on inking themselves up too so they'll never forget their "quirky, awesome" friend and compatriot.
"He was the silliest, most ridiculous person I've ever met. You'd look at him and smile," Hawthorne frontman JT Woodruff said. "One thing that was awesome about Casey — and all of us — is that we don't have any enemies. We always make friends with all these bands. And he was so liked by everyone."
"How outgoing and friendly he was. Everybody liked him. Even if they didn't like our band, they liked him," drummer Eron Bucciarelli added. "Casey was a little different. He was on the same level with the kids we'd play in front of. Something about the way he was wired. He was just a big kid."
As it turned out, Calvert was a kid in every aspect, as MTV News found out when the guitarist's widow, Ashley, welcomed us into their home in suburban Hamilton, Ohio, on Wednesday night. He loved anime, toys and animals, and when he's buried on Thursday (November 29), it won't be in a suit, but rather in his newest Kid Robot hoodie. And this is the innocence that his bandmates are trying so hard to protect. That's why, hours after discovering his body, they released a statement reiterating the fact that Calvert's death was unexpected — but of natural causes and not due to a drug overdose, as some would probably assume.
"We wanted Casey to be remembered in a positive way, and there's already a lot of stuff swirling around on the Internet. And he needs to be remembered in a better light than I think things are progressing towards right now," Bucciarelli said. "When you pass away that young, people automatically think there has to be a reason — there has to be something, like an illegal substance or drinking or something like that. And we didn't want people wandering off in different directions that weren't fitting of his character."
"Nobody knows [the cause of death] yet, so anything you read and anything you hear is inaccurate. So we're just kind of waiting and remembering. He was a great guy — never did anything wrong, never did anything illegal — so that's why it was such a shock," Woodruff added. "We're in a rock band, and there's this stigma that comes along with it, and we don't do any of that stuff. If you asked anybody who's met us or toured with us, they'll tell you they've never seen us do that stuff. We concentrate on playing shows and having a good time, and so did Casey. So we didn't want any of that to even be an option for somebody to think about."
Protecting Calvert's reputation is obviously important, but so is providing for his wife and prolonging his musical legacy. That's why the guys contacted his favorite charity, To Write Love on Her Arms, about designing a T-shirt in his memory, with all proceeds going to Ashley. And it's why they maintain that they didn't even think about calling it quits after Calvert's death, and why they'll always continue to count Calvert as a member of Hawthorne Heights.
"The day after this happened, we were on the bus driving home from D.C., and [Casey's] mother called and requested to speak to each of us individually," guitarist Micah Carli said. "And she made it a point to tell each of us that she insisted we keep going. And she said, 'It's what Casey would've wanted.' "
"We won't add another guitar player or add another screamer," Woodruff added. "We'll figure out what we want to do — as the four of us and with Casey along with us. In our albums, it'll always say 'Casey Calvert: guitar/vocals.' "
And though they'll always grieve for Calvert, Hawthorne say they were better people for having known him. He was by all accounts a wondrous, lighthearted soul — something that's obvious when they speak about their last memories of him. Because, as they pointed out, those will last a lot longer than any tattoo ever could.
"The night before he died, we had just left Detroit, on the way to D.C., and everybody was up in the front lounge, laughing and talking and joking," Carli said. "He was being hysterical — we took some video footage of him trying to sing the theme song from the 'Aladdin' movie — and that was about 2 in the morning, and we called it quits and decided to go to bed."
"He was tired but decided he wasn't going to go to sleep, and for once, I went to sleep before him, which generally wasn't the case. And I remember he went to his bunk and opened up my curtain, which I don't think he'd ever done, and said, 'Hey, I'm finally going to sleep.' " Ridenour said. "And I was like, 'All right, well you need to go to sleep, because you're tired,' and he said, 'All right, well, good night.' And I don't think I'd ever said good night to him, and he'd never said good night to me. It was just this weird thing, but I'm glad it happened."