Popes/Public Good Guitarist Steve Ruppenthal R.I.P.


Gifted songwriter was a lynchpin of the NC music scene and, later, of the D.C. area scene.

By Fred Mills

Very, very sad news arrived today at the BLURT offices that North Carolina musician Steve Ruppenthal passed away yesterday (June 21). The official cause of death has not been announced yet, but it was reportedly a drowning incident while Ruppenthal was on vacation with his family. We’ll update this as news or corrections come in.

Ruppenthal had gotten his start as a guitarist while attending high school in Charlotte, later moving to Chapel Hill where in the early ‘90s he cofounded beloved high-energy power pop combo The Popes. A big college radio fave, the band’s 1988 album Hi We’re the Popes has steadily grown in stature over the years among indie rock aficionados, and in some corners it’s considered one of the great lost artifacts of the pre-Nirvana era of alternative rock.

Later, Ruppenthal and fellow Popes player John Elderkin formed a succession of well-regarded bands, including Stumble and the Lovely Lads. Work and academia subsequently intervened, but a few years ago the hooked back up in Washington DC as The Public Good. Talking to yours truly for a BLURT “Best Kept Secret” indie band profile, Ruppenthal commented on how the indie music scene in general had changed in the years since he began making music, noting, “I miss the demise of a collection of songs as an album, though not ‘concept albums’ (Green Day’s last record – ugh!). And I wish John Lennon, Joe Strummer, and Arthur Lee were still alive.”

We’ll have to add another name of a much loved/much respected musician to that list now.

Photo borrowed from Ruppenthal’s Facebook page, where scores of friends have posted their reactions to the news of his death.

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