RIP Kurt Hanson 1973-2008 – “Cast Out Devils”

Note: Since this was written, a memorial site has been posted in Kurt’s honor. Please visit and learn more about Kurt. If you have your own story, submit it, please. We want to help maintain Kurt’s strange and beautiful legacy…

Welcome to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog.

We’re going to pause this week to honor a dear friend of Detholz! who was killed last week: Kurt Hanson.

Kurt was the person for whom the song “Cast Out Devils” was written — it is a song entirely for him and about his life.

I’m posting a free download from the 2006 album, “Cast Out Devils,” here in Kurt’s honor:


Kurt was at the record release show for “Cast Out Devils” back in 2006. We dedicated this song to him from the stage. As our friends told us afterwards, his usual sloppy posture straightened, and he blushed and smiled ear to ear.

All of us deserve a song, but Kurt more than most. He was one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever known.

I’ve included his eulogy and the lyrics to the song below.

We love you, Kurt.

RIP 1973-2008

Pronunciation ..’men-di-k?nt..
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin mendicant-, mendicans, present participle of mendicare to beg, from mendicus beggar
Date: 14th century
1: beggar
2: often capitalized : a member of a religious order (as the Franciscans) combining monastic life and outside religious activity and originally owning neither personal nor community property : friar

In the summer of 2004, Kurt crashed at my one-bedroom apartment in Chicago for a few days as he was wont to do. I had to step out one afternoon to run some errands, so I left Kurt alone on my couch deeply submerged in one of his dog-eared Krishnamurti books that were like bodily appendages for him. When I returned, Kurt had disappeared but he’d left his calling card: a serious mess. Not your average serious mess, either. Kurt’s messes were always piled high with deep mysteries.

When I entered my apartment, I was met by a mountain of wrappers, crumbs, half-eaten food and a fresh layer of dust on my coffee table. I thought: how does one conjure dust out of thin air? When I walked into the bathroom, the shower rod was strangely askew. And most puzzling of all: there was a small blood stain on my kitchen floor.

“My God,” I thought. “What happened here?” And then I smiled. This was what those who knew him best referred to as “classic Kurt.” He would descend like a tornado and leave a litany of questions in his wake. From whence did he come? Where did he go? And what the hell happened in between?

In the movies, there is a phenomenon known as the “continuity error.” For example, in one shot, a glass of water in the corner of the screen is full. When it cuts to next shot, the glass of water is suddenly empty. Or, in another imaginary scene– say from one of Kurt’s favorite films, “Waterland” NOT “Waterworld,” as he’d be quick to point out — a depressed college professor prepares to battle a man in a gorilla suit. Cut to the next shot, and a stunt double dressed as the college professor wrestles with said gorilla-suited adversary.

If you or I were to watch one of these scenes, our brains would filter out these continuity errors and automatically focus on the most important action in the scene. The average brain suppresses unimportant details and assembles a composite “reality map.”

For my friend Kurt Hanson, no such reality map was possible. His brain was incapable of filtering out the extra sensory static, so it was constantly barraged and overwhelmed with sensory input, unable to organize or filter any of it. This caused him intense physical and psychic pain. Kurt lived in a chaotic and frightening universe in which he spent his whole life attempting to make sense of it, and, if he could, to make peace with it.

Kurt existed in a cosmic question mark. His mind burbled with a thousand different vision quests at any given time– many of them overlapping and contradicting one another. When he had a mind to share some of these, he was a brilliant and engaging conversationalist with a pentrating intellect, and a large measure of spiritual wisdom. Kurt was one of my favorite people on the planet to talk to because I would never walk away from him without my perspective contorted in some new, fascinating way.

We spent many, many hours at Wheaton College, on the porch of the Maplewood house, at restaurants of dubious quality, and on interstate phone calls parsing the nature of his scary universe, the so-called “cultural consensus reality” against which he struggled to survive, and a host of deep subjects on which Kurt spoke with authority and, at times, with great eloquence. On more than one occasion when we discussed religion, Kurt opened doors for me to vast spiritual expanses that forever reshaped and enriched my own limping Christian faith.

I came to think of Kurt as a poor man’s avatar or, as he sometimes jokingly described himself, as a “Mendicant”– only in the truest sense. He was our friend group’s Traveling Friar, making sure we were challenged in our thinking– and helping himself to our food when he was hungry.

When I first met Kurt 12 years ago as a college kid, I found him to be a gangly, boxy-haired curiosity. As we spent more time together, I grew to love him as a close friend and eventually, as a kindred spirit. I could talk to Kurt for hours and share with him in ways that I couldn’t with most other people. And Kurt would listen and sincerely engage, sometimes disagreeing, but always without judgment. Despite his capacity for occasional nastiness brought on by his illness, Kurt was ultimately a gentle, kind soul.

It has been said many times in the wake of his death that there was no one on the planet quite like Kurt. That’s a cliche, perhaps, but in Kurt’s case it was literally true. Kurt was one of the most bizarrely beautiful creatures I have ever met. He was a man split in half– one side of him fully embraced his role as the social misfit, the weird guy at the party, a sort of Buddhist “Hell on Wheels.” And I loved that part of him. The other side — the side buried under the illnesses, the suffering and the pain, was a scared little boy who just wanted to be a regular guy, have a job and maybe a girlfriend. To be, as he half-jokingly would call it, a “man of action.” I loved that side of Kurt, too.

These two halves of Kurt were in constant conflict and that conflict caused him anger, frustration, and ultimately, self-hatred. But I wish he could see you all here, now, with the blinders of his varied illnesses removed. Kurt attracted so many people who loved him — many of whom are among the finest, brightest human beings I know.

To his family, on behalf of his friends, I want you to know how much Kurt contributed to and how much he enriched our lives. Kurt’s life story may not have a happy ending, but as it closes, it is a purposeful, meaningful and strangely beautiful one.

And for my friend Kurt, who is finally at peace with himself, I offer one last quote from one of his mentors, Jiddu Krishnamurti:

“If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”

I believe many of us understood bits of what Kurt was, perhaps missing a few crucial pieces of information blinking in the periphery. Kurt was ultimately only able to think of himself as a walking continuity error– a man fractured into too many unimportant bits to survive.

Speaking for myself, I believe Kurt perpetuates in a blissful eternity with God today, and that he understands, finally and totally, exactly what he is– and how much he is loved.



Pass out outside
Do it
Head is covered under a separation
Germans in the hot night fly through it
Feeling calm, a thousand bombs blasting Britain

Radio, radio
Pick him up and drive him home
The wife is on the phone
From the the hall of the gods of war
In the light of the night grocery store

I think I believe
In life worth living
I know that I need
Space to live in

Dust collects and blood clots in the shower
Stumble backward, lost the medication
Locked it in the car, pry off the sunroof
Swallow whole with milk you stole from the priesthood

Sinuses full of mother and dad
Blowing Krishnamurti‘s “I Am That”
Lips of a prophet
Nails of a thief
Scratch for whiskey in the summer heat

I think I believe
In the world of Satan
I know that I need
Space to make him.

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13 Responses to “RIP Kurt Hanson 1973-2008 – “Cast Out Devils””

  1. Steve Says:

    Nicely said Jim..

    I cant tell you how much Monday meant to me…

    His mom told me over the phone about how excited he was to show them this song for the first time.
    Like someone finally understood him for the first time.
    She said “it wasn’t like him. he was really touched and humbled that someone took the time to write a song about him”

  2. kebabdylan Says:

    Did Kurt go to Wheaton? I recall seeing him at shows and maplewood and always thought he look familiar.

    In any case, sorry to hear the sad news. the eulogy was beautiful and even though I’ve never really known what that song was about, I’ve always felt that it was far and away the best detholz lyrics of any song.

    I will give the song a good listen today.

  3. detholz Says:

    Steve: Thank you for putting together the memorial at the Theosophical Society. I can’t tell you how much that meant to Andrew, Matt, myself and everyone else who gathered there.

    Lots of Kurt’s family and friends have communicated how proud he was of this song. I hope that the converse was also true: that he knew how proud we were of him, and how much we loved him. I think he did, in his own weird way.

    ‘Bab: Kurt was a Wheaton townie, but he spent a lot of time at the college since a lot of his friends were there.

    Glad you like the lyrics. It’s really a testament to Kurt– he was such a complex, layered and interesting person. We all miss him a lot.

  4. Chad Says:

    A very well written and well delivered eulogy. Of Kurt’s “close” friends, I probably knew him the least. It was good to hear your words and help fill in some of the blanks about Kurt. The song, too, captures the essence of Kurt that even I could identify after the short yet intense times we spent together. For someone who loved my cats as much as I did (which is no small feat for any of you who’ve met Spooky) Kurt will be missed.

  5. Peter Folger Says:

    Thank you Jim for posting this from the folks like myself who are part of the Kurt Hanson diaspora, unable to be there in physical form, but definitely there in spirit. I am mostly sad at the tragedy of Kurt’s passing, but I am angry too, angry not at Kurt (though that would be fine), but angry that as a world, a collective WE, that we could not find a place for Kurt amongst us. I saw the two sides of Kurt you so eloquently portrayed in your eulogy, the wild Kurt wanted to ramble and never be pinned down, but all that little boy wanted was to finally let down his load and rest awhile. It is quite possible that Kurt could not really have settled down in one place for long, but I can’t help but be a little angry that we can’t seem to find a place for Kurt, and others like him, in our world. This whole situation with Kurt has really sensitized me to the needs of those marginalized for whatever reason. It’s a tough question, saving the world is a bit larger project than I can take on right now, but there must be a middle place, more than doing nothing, that can provide some sense of sanctuary for our mendicant brothers and sisters. I’m not a strong Christian myself, but I keep coming back to Jesus saying that he is present in the least among us…

  6. detholz Says:

    Chad: You bring up something I didn’t know about Kurt: how gentle he was with animals.

    At his funeral, a story was told about Kurt being asleep in the basement of an empty house. He had taken in a stray cat which he thought was sick. As it turned out, the cat was pregnant, and when she went into contractions limped down to Kurt’s bed.

    The noise woke him up, and apparently he delivered and took care of the kittens until his other housemates got home, even naming a few them. The owner of the house said that afterward he would hear Kurt singing the kittens’ names to them.

    It was also mentioned that the animal knew the only safe place to go in the house was next to Kurt. Whether it was some aura or smell– we’ll never know– but that was another testimony to the deep vein of kindness buried underneath all of the illness and hurt.

    Peter: Thank you for writing. Funny you should mention that passage in Matthew 25. Erik, Kurt’s brother, chose that as the Scripture reading at Kurt’s funeral. In many ways, it was a scathing indictment.


    Though Kurt admittedly existed in the fringes of many communities, I’m not sure there’s anything one person or community could have done. You describe Kurt’s own frustration with the “cultural consensus of reality” that he found wholly banal and unaccommodating. Everything was tried: medicines, doctors, psychiatrists, institutions — religious and medical, subsidization by friends and family– nothing worked. Even if Kurt found himself in a great situation or community (as he did many times), he would eventually have to pull up stakes and move on.

    After his funeral, I had the privilege of talking to a older member of their family’s church who had known Kurt for years (or at least known of Kurt). He was deeply moved by Kurt’s story, and with tears in his eyes, asked me about Kurt’s passions, what philosophies he had read and about how the Christian community there had let him down.

    He graciously allowed me to rage at him a little bit — that Kurt could in no way conform to the written and unwritten codes of evangelical behavior, that he did not deal in the edicts of American evangelicalism, but — like Jesus did — in riddles and questions. I told him I thought that Kurt’s funeral had been his “day in court,” and that he had won, hands down.

    In retrospect, I can sit here and rattle my saber at the church and the different communities that let him down. The fact is: without those communities, Kurt would not have been who he was. It was not their fault that Kurt died. Kurt was also associated with some real lowlifes who thought the world of him. There was nothing they have done, either.

    Erik, Kurt’s brother, made the point the other night that nobody that Kurt knew — from the drug addicts to the shiniest of churchmen — wanted him dead.

    There have been many people moved by Kurt’s death to reach out the less fortunate among us: not only the poor, but the so-called “crazies” who can, at times, be psychic vampires. Kurt could certainly be one when he wanted to be. He talked AT me for hours, sometimes. Being his friend could be a real time commitment!

    Rather than setting up more institutions for people like Kurt (which is certainly admirable), I would argue that an extra measure of patience with people in our own lives that are “mendicants” in their own right — people with clear psychological problems that need good friends in addition to doctors and worried parents, “weird” kids who obviously have no friends or bad families, etc. — would yield a far greater result, both in their lives and ours.

    Patience and love are rarely turned away– we all need extra measures of both.

    As a “limping” Christian myself, I can point to clear examples of how Kurt was used as an instrument of God in my life and the lives of others. His funerals and memorials this week have been proof positive of that.

  7. Haps Says:

    Hey Hey!

    Yes, I even sign funeral guest books that way… We each struggle to fit in our own strange ways and I guess we each have to be who we are.

    Thanks for this. I’d been carrying a bit of a burden around, having seen Kurt only moments after it happened. I didn’t recognize him, and couldn’t stop wondering who it might have been. The thought that I hoped it wasn’t someone I knew haunted me but only led me to understand that I didn’t, in turn, hope it was someone who someone else knew either. I was simply at a loss for what to feel, how to understand it, thinking, “What difference does it make whether it’s MY friend or someone else’s?” When I read the name, I didn’t connect it with a face, and certainly not with the song or you or the shows I might have seen him at. I wish I’d known him. I’m thankful for what you’ve so wisely and eloquently written. It’s healing. I’m thankful he had a friend like you. I’m thankful to call you a friend too.


  8. Pru Says:

    Thank you so much for loving Kurt and being his friend and writing him a song and seeing Jesus in him.

    I did not know him in the least. I work in the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton and saw the police on April 10th at the tracks from my window. I grieved as someone told me they’d seen a body; I immediately suspected the worst. I wanted answers as to who it was and why and if they had family and if it was an accident. People kept coming to my window and I thought that it was sick and I was angry that colleagues would think it was some sort of circus show. I knew there was more to the story and this was a real person with real family and a real spirit. I could sense it, more than one normally would…so I prayed and prayed. And it’s kinda funny, now that I see the title of your song because at the time I thought, “What sort of devils had a hold on him?” And here’s my answer….

    I searched online since then to see if there was a name to go with this man or a memorial service or something tangible to know of his life, having only been there at his death. You may never know the peace it brought me to see the name Kurt Hanson and then to google and see that he had an obituary, friends, a myspace page, people who loved him enough to share their food, their lives, their precious talents. I’m sorry I didn’t know Kurt in life, I think he would have made a great friend. But, thanks for the glimpse into his life and for answering my sprawled questions from a look out the window on a rainy thursday afternoon.

    And you know, you’re right about your conclusion, nobody wanted Kurt to die. If a total stranger grieved, if Jesus grieves, I cannot ever imagine how you all have grieved who knew and loved Kurt. But, it is not in any way your fault or the church’s fault or a situation for blame to be cast on anyone in particular. I’ve seen too many suicides thus far–and too many of late–to blame anyone anymore. I continue to pray for Kurt, his friends and family that all shall be healed and blessed in the arms of God.

    On an aside, I’ve seen you play several times at Wheaton and elsewhere, thanks for blessing the church with your gifts.

  9. detholz Says:

    Everyone: Thanks for reading this post. I’m going to leave it up for one more week — seems like more friends of Kurt are finding their way here.

    Haps: I’m sorry you had to be there at the sad ending of Kurt’s story, Kerry.

    The most heartbreaking aspect of this whole event is the manner in which Kurt decided to kill himself. I think the violence he did to his own body reflects how he thought of himself at the end, and that makes me very sad.

    Thankfully, that’s only a part of Kurt’s story– an important part, yes, but far from the sum total. One thing we’ve all agreed on about Kurt: you couldn’t have had the Good without the Bad and Ugly. In his case, the Band and Ugly things in his life– his illness, his depression, his pain– informed a lot of the Good things — his insight, his considerable sense of humor, his consideration of others, gentle spirit, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, and feel free to contact me if you need to. Pretty sure BP has my current info.

    Pru: Thanks for writing, Pru. Again, I’m sorry your introduction to Kurt came when it was too late to know him.

    I imagine for all of the accidental witnesses to Kurt’s death– and it sounds like there were many– that there will be a burden to bear for awhile.

    From what I understand, the train conductor hasn’t been able to work and has been in counseling following Kurt’s death– so please pray for him and his family.

    There are many friends and family still deeply grieving Kurt’s loss, so please remember them as well. Especially his parents and his brother.

    Kurt’s mom quoted from the book of Matthew regarding Kurt to me the other night:

    “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, until he sends forth judgment unto victory.” Matthew 12:20

    Kurt was definitely a bruised reed, the “least” of us, and I am convinced that he is at peace now, resting in God’s mercy toward him– and towards all of us.

  10. In Memoriam: Kurt Hanson (1973-2008) « Theosophist Says:

    […] There is an excellent tribute here. […]

  11. kurt hanson Says:

    My name is also KURT HANSON. I googled my name for the hell
    of it and was sorry to read the sad ending to a troubled mans life. I also have suffered with major depression for 20 years.And I tried to die last year but I failed, Im sober now and on a lot of Meds- but I wanted to let you know that for some reason Im still alive and I thought it may be of some solace perhaps that I feel conected to KURT and Im still alive trying somehow to live in a world that has constantly put me down and treated me like crap. I still think about dying all the time. Last year my beautiful young pregnant wife dumped me and Im still devastated and sad as hell- but Im trying to live.
    Im very sorry for the loss of your friend and brother. I strangely enough also have a brother named Eric. Im very sorry for your loss, he sounds very special and Unique and.
    Im catholic but I believe he made it to heaven.
    Sorry.KURT BRIAN HANSON 1970-????

    • detholz Says:


      I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time. Our Kurt was one of the most unique creatures I have ever known. He demise was in part due to his inability to access proper medication after a car wreck (not his fault). Please keep yourself properly medicated– it’s not a magic bullet, but Kurt had finally found the right cocktail of meds to take care of his chronic head pain. He was like a different person.

      When he couldn’t get it anymore, he turned to heroin– not to get high, just to get rid of the physical pain & it was a downward spiral from there. Don’t let that happen to you! I hope you are talking to a professional whom you trust — if not, find one! It’s worth the effort & not worth spending the rest of your life under a black poison cloud. Everyone deserves better, whatever their circumstances.

      Hang in there, brother!

  12. Brian Says:

    i went to high school with Kurt, but he was two years younger than i was. i knew who he was and he knew who i was. i really did not get to know Kurt until many years later. we used to play basketball at Wheaton Evangelical Free Church and Kurt would always show up to play in his tight shirts, cut off jeans, running shoes and no socks.

    i used to love sitting out a game or two with Kurt because our conversations would travel down any and all paths. i had some of the best discussions about movies and music with Kurt during those 10-15 minute segments.

    i stopped playing around February of 2008 and this is the first time i had that Kurt had passed….even though it had been two years it hit me hard. Kurt was such a free spirit. i really enjoyed monday nights because Kurt was there.

    i am sorry to hear that he is gone, but he will be sorely missed.

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