Cash Askew.

Cash Askew. (Illustration by Farrin Abbott/KQED)

Cash Askew, 22, was a captivating person with visionary musical talent. One half of dream-pop duo Them Are Us Too, she was a beloved figure in the Bay Area music community, especially within queer and trans circles.

Askew’s stepfather, Sunny Haire (former manager of the Lexington Club, a now-shuttered lesbian bar in San Francisco’s Mission) taught Askew to play guitar at the age of seven. “As a child, Cash would spend time with her stepfather in the Lexington Club, sipping cranberry juice and watching the clientele,” The Washington Post notes in a story about Askew.

Cash Askew in the music video for Chasms’ “Beyond Flesh."
Cash Askew in the music video for Chasms’ “Beyond Flesh.” (YouTube)

In a statement to Rolling Stone, Askew’s stepfather Sunny Haire and mother Leisa Baird Askew said: “She was very special, an enigma, and I can say without hesitation she truly affected and made an impression upon everyone she met…” With her passing, the world lost a tender, luminous spirit who was just beginning to imprint an indelible mark on the world through her art and through her humanity.”

In an interview with writer Beth Winegarner, published on Medium in the wake of the Oakland warehouse fire, Askew, who identified as transgender and used the feminine pronoun, spoke about how her early explorations of gender and music intertwined. “As a young teenager, I was definitely attracted to goth and new wave in part because of the androgyny,” Askew says, “And that aesthetic gave me a way to explore my gender expression before I could even come to terms with being transgender.”

Askew began playing with vocalist Kennedy Ashlyn as Them Are Us Too in 2013, and the duo released its first full-length album, Remain, through Dais Records last year. The songs on the somber yet glistening album combine soaring, siren-like vocals with atmospheric synth, shoegaze guitar and snare. Askew also maintained two solo musical projects, Heavenly and Prist.

In a remembrance of Askew posted to its website, Dais Records posts: “We were in awe of her talent, her gentle kindness, and her creative momentum. She was loved and admired by everyone she met, and her passing is an excruciating loss that we may never fully process or recover from.”

Cash Askew (right) and Kennedy Wenning of Them Are Us Too.
Cash Askew (right) and Kennedy Wenning of Them Are Us Too. (Kristen Cofer)

In the days since the Ghost Ship fire, there has been an outpouring of grief from those in the music scene who played with Askew, or simply appreciated her music.

On Instagram, Wax Idols singer Hether Fortune referred to Askew’s work and existence as “transcendent.” “Getting to become close with you on tour [and] watch you perform every night for a month was a privilege and a revelation,” she writes. “You were as iconic as you were pure.”

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In a statement on its Facebook page, Oakland noise-rock trio S.B.S.M. remembers playing a show in Santa Cruz with Ashlyn and Askew. Still relatively new, and feeling insecure, the band was emboldened by the duo’s support.

“Cash was there in a crowd of mostly unamused punks literally just moshing with herself, in her own space, in her own zone,” the members of S.B.S.M. write. “Of all the people who we’ve met through doing this band, we actually trusted the way Cash appreciated us, she understood us, she ‘got it.’ In a freak for freak, queer for queer, heart to heart way. We feel the same about all of her creativity as well.”

The band goes on to recall being brought to tears simply at the sight of Askew dance during a Wax Idols show. S.B.S.M. was even inspired to write a song about her dance moves: “Maybe she has always been ethereal; like a prism channeling light.”

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Hear “Us Now” and read a review of Them Are Us Too on Pitchfork here.

Read an interview with Them Are Us Too on Vice here.

See Askew starring recently in the music video for Chasms’ “Beyond Flesh” here.

Watch Askew in a DJ set with Aja Archulata here.

For more of our tributes to the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire, please visit our remembrances page here.

For a printable poster of the illustration above, see here.

Cash Askew, Transcendent Musician and ‘Tender, Luminous Spirit’ 6 January,2017Sarah Burke

Author

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke is a journalist, critic, and curator living and working in Oakland, California. She is a regular contributor to KQED's Culture Cue, for which she writes about topics at the intersection of art, culture, and identity. Her work has been recognized with first place awards from the American Association of Alternative Newsmedia and The Society of Professional Journalists. Previously, she served as Managing Editor at the East Bay Express.  Find her on twitter at @sarahlubyburke.