At Least He Died A Lion
Almost everyone can say they have been affected by cancer one way or another. It could be a relative, friend, or close acquaintance. Recently, Stick To Your Guns and the entire hardcore scene were touched by the disease, and one fan’s brave battle.
Sam Perkins, a resident of Gilbert, Arizona – nearly 500 miles from Stick To Your Guns’ hometown in California – was a member of a very popular local band and was a huge fan of Stick To Your Guns. In 2011, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
“He was such a great guy. There was not one person in the Arizona local music scene who had a bad thing to say about him. He was always a kind-hearted person, always genuine. He was there for everyone,” said Eric Davis, a close friend of Sam. He practiced down the street from Eric’s home and the two went to high school together. Eric knew Sam mostly through playing with him in the local music scene.
Stick To Your Guns would make a stop in Arizona while Sam was undergoing treatment for a tumor in his brain, and this is where lead vocalist Jesse Barnett would hear about Sam’s story. “What basically happened was we were playing a show in Phoenix – that’s near where I believe he is from – and someone approached me and said his friend was very, very sick, and though he can’t be here today, he’s like your biggest fan, and asked if we could talk to him. So we spent some time on the phone just talking to him,” he said.
Even with how sick Sam was, he thought he was going to get better. He used Stick To Your Guns’ music to strengthen him through his battle with cancer and hoped to return home to his family and friends soon.
“When he found out he had his brain tumor, he really desired for Stick To Your Guns and especially ‘La Poderosa’ and the lyrics in order to cope with the hard time he was going through. He was just trying to stay strong, and that song really helped him,” said Eric.
The lyrics to “La Poderosa” go:
“I’m breaking away from pain and self-defiance.
I’ve found my way in faith and self-reliance.
And I can say I stood to face the giant.
But if I die, at least I’ll die a lion.”
Sam found much inspiration from the lyrics to this song, especially the last line, and really stressed its importance through Facebook. “He would say that line numerous times. So we knew that was a very important line to him, as it showed his character as that he will ‘die a lion,’ and he did ‘die a lion,’” said Eric.
After a long, hard battle with cancer, Sam passed away in the fall of 2011. It hit everyone he was close to extremely hard, and his friends and family were struck with grief.
“I think the reason why it hit his friends and his family so hard is because he was saying ‘Oh, I’m getting better and they say I can leave here like next week. I’ll be driving around and I’ll come down to your house and we’ll hang out.’ They were so excited, and then the next day it went the other way,” explained Barnett.
Many of Sam’s close friends came to his house on the night of his passing to comfort his parents, and they shared memories and stories on his patio. That was when they all decided to get tattoos associated with the last line of “La Poderosa.”
“While we were all sitting around with his family, we all just sporadically said let’s go out and get this tattoo. We all went our separate ways and some of us went to different tattoo shops, but we all had an idea of what we wanted – we wanted the Stick To Your Guns heart logo and the line “At least he died a lion” around the heart,” says Eric.
Sam’s death had an immediate impact on the community around him.
Eric continued: “For something like this to happen in a way that it made everyone appreciate everything they have around them, and as a member of a band, it really hit the local scene hard because he was in a well-known local act. To see him no longer be there was really hard on everyone.”
A lot of the resulting feelings from his friends and fellow hardcore kids and musicians came in the form of heartbreak, but people also started to realize the importance of Sam’s life. According to Jesse, he exemplifies how a life should be lived. “I didn’t really know Sam that well, but seeing the local scene and how much he meant to them, it was heartbreaking. When something like that happens, it causes an entire scene much pain, but that right there proves much about who Sam was, no matter if you knew him or not,” he said.
On January 3, 2012, Stick To Your Guns played a memorial show in honor of Sam. On the bill were many bands that Sam had played with, including local bands Approaching Skylight, The Anatomy of Suffering, and Loren Battle.
“The atmosphere [of the show] was very unified; it was very much just how it was back when things weren’t so this or that,” Eric said.
Those who knew Sam and even those who didn’t came together on that night in January. Between 600 and 800 people attended the benefit show, which was held at the Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe. Since this show was held, talk of another show in New Jersey has started.
“By seeing the impact he had on the whole area showed that Sam was definitely a very special person. I talked to his parents at the benefit show that we did. I think stuff like that is important. And now we’re trying to do another benefit show for a kid named Anthony, who is another big Stick To Your Guns fan from New Jersey,” added Jesse.
The story of Sam continued to spread and just from going on Twitter, it can be seen that his legacy has spread as far as Germany. As his close friends posted pictures of their tattoos on Facebook, more and more people – even people who had never talked to Sam – decided to go out and get similar tattoos.
More time would pass, and in March, Stick To Your Guns released Diamond, their fourth studio album. Eric would soon get an e-mail from the band explaining how they wanted all of Sam’s friends who got tattoos in remembrance of him to come down to Gilbert to get filmed for their music video for “Against Them All,” the second track off their new record.
“The song is perfect – ‘Against The All’ is about togetherness. He honestly inspired me to write the song,” Jesse said. Inspired by Sam’s story and how the hardcore scene reacted to his death. He sent an e-mail to Sam’s father talking about how much Sam had influenced him since they talked last year.
Here is an excerpt from the e-mail:
“I know I don’t need to tell you that living in the world that we are living in, finding hope and inspiration can prove to be a bit of a struggle. But your family has been a driving force for me to continue pushing forward. The life I live is one that can be extremely grueling on me, mentally and physically, and my relationships. Sometimes I feel like stopping. But then something like this “Sam Perkins movement” happens and it sparks a wildfire in me and I realize I can’t quit. This is who I am and I’m truly honored to be a part of it.”
“You don’t see it everywhere you go where an entire scene is affected by someone’s death as they were in the Tempe area. That was the first time I saw something like that. Because we were able to kind of show the rest of our community of hardcore kids and through Twitter and the video we posted, I think more people are starting to think ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’” Jesse said. According to him, it is always said to lead by example, and that’s what Sam did. Because of that, Sam is leaving a very big legacy on his community, music scene, and is starting to leave an even bigger one on people in and out of the hardcore scene.
“He really set the standard of what a good, genuine person should be. So when he passed, everyone kind of realized that we all looked up to him, because he always smiled and never had anything negative to say about anything or anyone. That’s a really good thing to look for in any person,” said Eric.
Sam’s story is one that has not only impacted the life of Jesse and the rest of Stick To Your Guns, but has helped lay a rubric for the kind of person that they want to be. Jesse finds Sam’s battle with cancer and the community’s coming together to be the true essence of what hardcore music is about. “There are people all across the world who have no idea who Sam was but are somewhat moved or affected by his death. I think that’s why I like music so much; you can move people like that, and really have an impact on people like that.”