The South Bay recently lost one of most unique and beloved figures in the local underground music scene. Cy Thoth, aka Phil Herz, who hosted the Firebunker show on KFJC at Foothill College every Thursday at 2pm, passed away on March 11th, only four days after his seventh anniversary show. He was 58 years old.
Herz was known for playing the darkest, most obscure songs he could get his hands on—doom-metal, psychedelic-noise, hypnotic chants and meditative droning. But perhaps more than his playlists, he drew in listeners for his deep baritone voice and distinct on-air personality, which more closely resembled a spoken word performance than standard DJ banter.
“The content of his monologues and mic breaks were incredible,” says Moris Minor aka Andrew Noto, fellow KFJC and keyboardist/drummer in Herz’s group Qumran Orphics. “Folks liked it just for that alone, and he did have great knowledge of philosophy, history and the like. His knowledge of vocabulary was seemingly endless. He was an amazing wordsmith,”
Herz had joined KFJC in 2004, he was an avid listener to the station, which always tended toward the weird and the eclectic. He would even call in and tell the DJs how much the music they played inspired him while he was doing his drawings and writing poetry, which he gladly shared with them.
“He would speak out these poems, word-play kind of things, with ancient philosophy, religious themes, but also with great funny silly humor, lots of rhyming and alliteration,” says Noto.
Once Herz got involved with the station, it became his life. During the annual fall fundraisers, he would volunteer six days a week, sometimes for as long as eight consecutive weeks. We would also volunteer nearly every month to help clean up along the stretch of Hwy 280 that KFJC had adopted. And if there was a KFJC event, he would be the guy at the front door, greeting KFJC listeners, of course, dressed in his cloak.
“His show was on Thursdays, which were also always Thanksgiving days,” Noto says. “Every year at our KFJC meetings he would tell everyone that if they had no place to go on Thanksgiving, they could hang out during his show. He’d bring the turkey, dessert and drinks.”
News of his passing came just a week and a half before his band Qumran Orphics were scheduled to play the Blank Club. Qumran Orphics were a sort of a fun project consisting of different KFJC DJs that rarely played live shows, and the DJs never played their own music on KFJC. But Qumran Orphics played the kind of crazy noisy music Herz would have gladly played on his Firebunker show if he wasn’t in the band. His contribution to the group was spoken word, much like he would do on his show, and some thoroughly engaging theatrics.
“He would wear a cloak and had a large wooden mask that he would slowly move thru the audience with—and then prop it at the front of the stage. He would sit in a chair with the flashlight on his book of writings, and read from it with his scary dark round glasses on,” Noto says.
Herz was a friend to all the DJs at KFJC. Once he became friends with someone, Herz liked to leave these long, absurd, rhyming messages on their voice mails. They were so weird that most of the people that received them never deleted them. After Herz’s passing, many of the KFJC DJs got together at the station and listened to the different messages that Herz had left each of them, laughing and crying.
“He was friend to us all, a co-pilot on a cosmic sonic adventure, a DJ, a musician, a poet, a philosopher, a chess master, an artist, a freak, a comedian, a really amazing person who had a tremendous effect on people, always,” Noto says.