“Even as his body failed him, his mind and spirit soldiered on,” Fekete wrote. “Never was there a day that we weren’t filled with hope. Never was there a day that he even considered throwing in the towel. He was the kind-hearted, funny, fearless, magnetic beam of light you all knew him to be up until his very last breath.” She added at the end: “Now, my beautiful angel, go find Bowie and jam.”
Fekete revealed his cancer diagnosis to fans in April 2015, when he was forced drop off a Surfer Blood tour. The guitarist wrote that he had had major surgery to remove a large tumor from his abdomen, but that doctors had discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs and spine.
Despite surgeries and extensive chemotherapy, Fekete continued to make music, releasing a cassette-only LP, Burner, last December. “Sometime between March and June of 2015 while healing from two surgeries and starting chemotherapy, I hunched over my four-track and created this disaster,” Fekete said of the record in a statement. “No multiple takes, no expensive mics, no outside direction … just me in my bedroom with a very cheap, bare bones setup.”
All proceeds from the album helped Fekete with his medical costs, while Surfer Blood also staged a series of benefit shows on his behalf — but the donations from those shows were stolen when the band’s van was broken into on the outskirts of Chicago. Other bands, however, stepped in to help raise money for Fekete, with Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Cults, Real Estate and more contributing unreleased songs, demos and live tracks to a compilation sold through the GoFundMe page.
Surfer Blood co-founders John Paul Pitts and Tyler Schwarz first met Fekete and bassist Brian Black at an Ultra Music Festival afterparty in Miami. The Florida outfit began a regimen of non-stop touring and recording, crafting their 2010 debut album, Astro Coast, in Pitts’ off-campus apartment at Florida Atlantic University. Led by breakout single, “Swim,” Astro Coast established Surfer Blood as one of contemporary indie rock’s lead Nineties-revivalists. The group went on to release the Tarot Classics EP in 2011, their second album Pythons in 2013, and 1000 Palms in 2015.
Jess Fekete will host a celebration of Thomas’ life on the beach in South Florida, the first weekend of July. More details will be made available soon, and the event will be open to “anyone who holds Thomas in their hearts.”