Musician Cash Askew was just 22 years old when she died in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire this month. “She was super weird and kind of awkward and had a hard time socializing, but also had this ability to really see people for who they were,” says bandmate Kennedy Ashlyn. “She didn't like attention, but everybody gave her nothing but attention, constantly. She'd be mortified if she knew how much press there was about this.”
Although the devastating fire that claimed 36 lives happened nearly 2,000 miles away, it had surprisingly close ties to North Texas. Or maybe it’s not that surprising considering the creative community’s extensive network, which reaches across the globe.
A native Californian, Ashlyn relocated to Denton a year ago after meeting a local musician, Leigh Violet of Psychic Killers, at The Crown & Harp during her tour in October 2015, and falling in love. When Ashlyn decided to move to North Texas, Askew stayed in the Bay Area where she was from.
Ashlyn has imprinted on the music scene in North Texas in her short time here, as did Askew, who visited for a week this summer in preparation for the duo’s Texas-to-California tour. “A lot of Denton people knew her. She was the kind of person people wanted to be around all the time,” Ashlyn says. “Everybody has constantly been obsessed with her.”
Photos of Askew on Facebook show a woman with raven hair, often curled with heavy bangs, wearing burgundy lipstick. A transgender woman, Askew had been a champion of LGBT causes. In the days before her death she posted a fundraiser on Facebook, asking for donations for self-defense education.
Local DJ and organizer Clinton Butler turned his event at a roller rink into a benefit to help victims. Donna Fitch, aka DJ Sold, from Chicago was already scheduled to deejay, and she knew many of those lost in the fire.
“I think it was a good tribute to the spirit of what many of the people in the Ghost Ship fire tirelessly devoted their time and effort,” says Butler, who throws underground parties much like the one at Ghost Ship. “So many of the people lost in Oakland were instrumental to their scene. Johnny [Igaz], Chelsea [Faith Dolan], Cash [Askew], Joey [Casio] and many others all made music and organized dance parties and shows.”
Butler is connected to the Bay Area underground scene, having deejayed events there, and he knew some of the victims personally. “If I had been in the Bay that weekend there's a 100 percent chance I would have been at that party,” Butler says.
Askew and Ashlyn’s band name “Them Are Us Too” is a reference to reclaiming marginalized populations. The pair met in Santa Cruz, California, four years ago when they were 19 and formed their “queer band” of “emotional, dreamy pop music,” as Ashlyn describes it.
Sean Kirkpatrick of Little Beards threw one benefit show and played a second benefit the week after the fire to help Ashlyn with expenses while she’s in California attending to Askew’s affairs and offering support to Askew’s family and girlfriend, Anya Taylor.
“It's really touching. It makes me feel like I have a community there. People went over and took care of our rabbit. We just got on a plane, we didn't even have any clothes with us,” says Ashlyn. “It's a reminder of how interconnected the whole underground community is all over the country. There's definitely a sense in Texas that this could have been any one of us.”
Kirkpatrick got to know Askew and Ashlyn when Little Beards played at Crown & Harp with Them Are Us Too over a year ago. He and his wife, Nan Kirkpatrick, the other half of Little Beards, consider themselves LGBT allies and social justice activists, and they’re also involved in the underground scene in North Texas.
“Imagine losing 30 people in our music and arts community, all at once, how devastating that would be,” says Kirkpatrick. “Especially the people that are marginalized and that are having to deal with a lot of anxiety around being themselves in society and trying to function as artists in this culture.”
As Ashlyn is grieving the loss of Askew and says there’s no future for the band without her, she’s found solace in making music with Askew’s girlfriend, Anya Taylor, who performs under the name Petheaven. The two teamed up and have already created a new project called Coaxhells, that they’re hoping to tour in the spring and record with donated studio time.
“It’s going to be a lot less naive than Them Are Us Too. There's no going back to that point,” says Ashlyn. “We're still definitely developing the concept, but there's going to be a strength there — they are mourning and survival songs. We're both singers; we've been singing together a lot. It's been really healing.”
Fans have posted an abundance of love and support on Askew’s Facebook page as well as in the comments on their music videos on YouTube. There’s even been an outpouring from people who only just discovered the band after learning about Askew’s death.
“She was incredibly brilliant and a genius at crafting noise and soundscapes, and very good at producing. I've grown so much since we started working together,” Ashlyn says. “She was very deliberate and thoughtful in what she did in her life and in her art. It’s a huge loss for the entire world whether they know it or not.”