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Musicians and fans react to the death of power pop singer-songwriter Tommy Keene

Tommy Keene (Mariela T. Huerta)
Tommy Keene (Mariela T. Huerta)

The  guitar pop singer and songwriter Tommy Keene, whose death was announced on Thursday, wasn’t a household name. Among masters of the craft, however, he was considered one of the best songwriters of his generation, and many of them lined up to celebrate an artist whose knack for melody and hook propelled his cult-classic albums, including “Songs From the Film,” “Based on Happy Times” and “Isolation Party.”

Keene’s death was confirmed by his publicist, Cary Baker, who wrote that “the 59 year-old Keene passed away unexpectedly, but peacefully, in his sleep at his Los Angeles area home on Wednesday.” 

A major figure in the so-called “power pop” movement that sprouted in the 1970s and ‘80s, Keene worked alongside or inspired kindred spirits including the dBs, Matthew Sweet, Guided by Voices, the Replacements and Ted Leo. Like those he affected, Keene focused on three- and four-minute songs that adhered to — and thrived within — the strictures of classic American popular song structure.

Across the Thanksgiving holiday, musicians took to Twitter to acknowledge Keene’s sudden passing. That includes the musician Peter Holsapple (the dBs, Continental Drifters), who posted a photo from a recent performance by the nonprofit organization Wild Honey. Notably, those who shared appreciations also celebrated the artist’s kindness.

The urgent pop-punk singer Ted Leo offered praise, as well, celebrating Keene’s music first, then following up later, writing, “I want to add that my overall impression of Tommy Keene is that his talent was surpassed only by his kindness. Those who knew him better will corroborate, I’m sure.”

The songwriter Matthew Sweet, who toured with Keene earlier in 2017, posted a lovely photo of the late artist sitting atop some sort of rusty vehicle. 

Keene was born in Evanston, Ill., and raised in Bethesda, Md., and started performing in post-punk bands around Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s. His 1986 major label debut album for Geffen Records, “Songs From the Film,” was produced by longtime Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, and the follow-up, 1989’s “Based on Happy Times,” was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tenn., home to classic recordings by avowed inspiration Big Star.

Over his career Keene issued a dozen albums, the last of which, “Laugh in the Dark,” came out in 2015. 

Keene is survived by his longtime partner, Michael Lundsgaard; his father, Robert Keene; stepmother Dorothy Keene; brother Bobby Keene; and nephews Hunter and Jason Keene.  

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