After a week away, it’s really nice to be back in Charleston and back at the City Paper office with everyone. I’m back in the swing of things after a few very sad, tearful days up in Georgia. On Friday. Nov. 9, terrible news slowly made its way around Athens and beyond that Ted Hafer — a local businessman, artist, and father of two — had died.
Through my 16 years in Athens, I was privileged to become one Ted’s many housemates, bandmates, employees, good neighbors, and great friends. According to city police, he fell from the roof of the man downtown parking deck on Washington Street (just across the street from he City Hall building) and died around 10:30 a.m. The fall was not accidental. He was 42.
Ted was best known by friends, family, and locals as co-owner of the popular Athens vegetarian restaurant, The Grit, located on Prince Avenue in Athens. He and his wife, Jessica Greene, were core members of The Grit team since the late ’80s. They married in Athens in 1994 and became sole owners of the restaurant in 1996. They cared deeply about the high quality of their food, facility, service, and atmosphere. In 2001, they celebrated the release of The Grit Cookbook: World-Wise, Down-Home, a terrific collection which included recipes for the restaurant’s menu and specialties. Also, featured in the cookbook were drawings and cartoons which Ted had done over the years.
A native of Potsdam, N.Y., Hafer relocated to Athens in 1985 and became active as a singer and musician within the city’s music scene. Through the late ’80s and early ’90s, he performed regularly with variousoriginal bands and collaborations in Athens and around the Southeast. His “serious” original bands were Porn Orchard (left), Six String Fever, and The Germans. Porn Orchard were phenomenal — my favorite rock band in Athens. Ted’s just-for-fun, glammy, “not so serious” thematic cover bands included Rehash, The Canadian Invasion, and Knight Seeker (right) — all of which featured Ted in full-on hair-metal/rocker regalia), among many other side projects.
Of all the distinguished players in the modern Athens music scene, Ted was by far one of the most individual. As one of the city’s most admired businessmen and family guys, he was one of he most generous and respected.
As word of spread, friends, family, colleagues, and admirers of all ages were stunned and deeply saddened by the shocking news. It was a rough weekend in Athens. Ted’s funeral took place at the Bridges Funeral Home on Atlanta Highway on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Hundreds showed up for the afternoon service. Those who couldn’t cram inside had to stand outside and listen in. Family members, musicians, longtime and former employees, Athens city and U.G.A. dignitaries, and neighbors stood together. It was if Athens had only just realized what a great character it had lost.
Sam Mixon — one Ted’s numerous former bandmates and one of his closest friends (they're pictured here from a band road trip in 1988) — executed the service beautifully, officiating with strength and steadiness.He remarked on Ted’s love for music and humor, and told the details of how he and Ted first met in 1985. Their musical collaboration led to enlisting Curtiss Pernice and the formation of Porn Orchard — one of the most significant and original rock bands to rise out of the Athens music scene. The final Porn Orchard show went down in December 1992 at the Chameleon Club on Washington Street, but Ted performed regularly with various original bands and collaborations in Athens.
Ted also delved seriously into the visual arts. Using very simple, low-budget video equipment and raw footage, he produced two music videos for Porn Orchard, completed a short sci-fi/action film titled The Apocalypse Warrior (starring Athens craftsman and old friend from upstate New York, Dorian Zevos),and a rambling full-length movie full of ridiculous cameos and amusingly choppy footage titled Fatal Outlet, starring Ted and friend/employee/bandmate Paul Trudeau (pictured, of Harvey Milk at the time, also of Canadian Invasion and Knight Seeker) as “moronic electricians.” Full of inside jokes and priceless improvisation, the limited-edition VHS tapes still get laughs among townies.
While there were many tears during the post-funeral afternoon gathering at Little Kings (on Hull Street) that Tuesday, there were probably as many boisterous laughs. Everyone seemed to have a really funny tidbit to tell about their experience with Ted. Over pints of beer, friends traded stories — tales of hilarious elaborate pranks, amusing mishaps, memorable gigs and raucous band road trips, and quieter one-on-one conversations.
One friend remarked, “Athens just lost one of its best friends.” That’s just about right. He led by example without meaning to stand out as a leader. He and Jessica were the type of hands-on restaurant owners employees respected and wished to please; they could do any dining room or kitchen task in the Grit, and nobody ever wanted to disappoint them with a poor job performance.
As a bandmate, neighbor, and family man, he demonstrated the kind of dedication, kindness, and selflessness to which others aspired. He was serious about the right things: professional courtesy, self reliance, charity, and life’s big responsibilities. But humor played a huge role in his routines. He often jumped at the opportunity to clown around, blurt out a improvised punch line, or execute a complicated prank or on-stage performance. He did it not for the spotlight or notoriety, but simply to make others laugh.
While Ted’s close friends and family knew of his recent physical ailments of injuries, most assumed he heading toward gradual recovery. Sadly, he was in worse shape than he let on. It’s almost impossible to image the physical and emotional pain and desperation Ted felt in his last days — the kind of deep, in-the-shadows pain that tends to go undetected. Thoughts and prayers go out to Jessica, Ted’s two children, his close family in New York, and his wide-reaching family in Athens and beyond. His gentle spirit and wild-eyed humor will be remembered.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be given in Ted’s name to musicians’ resource and support center Nuçi’s Space (396 Oconee Street, Athens, Ga. 30601; 706-227-1515). Ted Hafer’s life will be celebrated at a separate memorial service in early December, details forthcoming.