Late on Saturday afternoon, several friends in the Rio Grande Valley reached out, letting me know that Eric Lopez—known better by his punk rock nickname of Eric Fly, after the first band he played in as a teenager—had died. It had been years since I’d been in the Valley, and even longer since I’d seen Eric. But ask anybody who’s discovered a punk scene as a teenager, the way that I did there when I was eighteen—that stuff stays with you. And nobody better embodied the heart and the spirit of the RGV punk scene than Eric Fly.
Eric was as passionate about music as they came. Scene historian Becky Guzman, who was close to him, put together a GoFundMe page after his passing to help his family cover funeral costs—and on it, she listed every band she could recall him playing in over the forty years he was alive. She got up to 31, and it’s possible that she missed a couple.
In some of them, Eric was the core driving force: writing the songs, singing, playing bass and sometimes guitar. In others, he was more of a have-guitar-will-travel freelancer, signing up to flesh out a lineup for the fun of it. Fabian Gomez, drummer for Fantastico!, said onstage during the band’s first show that they needed a bass player. “He was like, ‘Hey, I’ll play bass for you guys!’ from the crowd,” Gomez recalled—and not long after that, he was in.
Seeing the sheer list of bands that Eric played in reads almost like a history of Valley punk, too (with some names that are unprintable). There’s the early pop-punk infatuation of the nineties in his first bands; the projects that started when emo hit the Valley, like My Hero and Gallows Holier Than the Cross; the more aggressively experimental early aughts days of Deadhead Battlefield and Charlie Daniels Death Wish; then, as the needle swung back to punk rock, bands like the Ex-Boyfriends and the Low Ends in recent years.
Eric occasionally toured around Texas, but was never particularly interested in making a name for himself outside of his home region. (In fact, he left Fantastico! because of the band’s ambition to play more shows around the state.) But the fact that his music really only existed within the Valley is exactly how he was able to have an outsized impact on the community there. And three separate cities in the Rio Grande Valley—McAllen, Harlingen, and Brownsville—are holding benefit tribute shows to him this weekend. The focus on establishing music scenes at home is how he was able to play in 31-plus different bands, and it’s why Valley punks spent the days following his death gathering to mourn and posting their own tributes to him on social media.
“He definitely embodied this kind of ‘lifer’ spirit, the way he regarded the Valley with pride, and didn’t buy into this idea that you have to go somewhere else,” Charlie Vela, a recording engineer and filmmaker who featured Eric in his 2016 documentary As I Walk Through the Valley, about the history of rock music in the RGV, says. “He was very vocally anti-that, and that became the cornerstone of my feelings on those things, too.”
If you lived in the Valley for any stretch of time between 1994 and 2019, and you were interested in live music, you probably saw Eric play at least once. If you didn’t, but you were part of another tight-knit music scene in another city, there’s probably some local legend who embodied the spirit of that community in a similar way to how he did.
Eric had a self-destructive streak that came through in his music. On an album he recorded in 2013, on which he played bass and guitar, and sang under the name Fisherman’s Luck, he dove into that, with tracks featuring ominous titles like “The Day I Died.” In a song he recorded with the Low Ends, he articulated the difficulties he faced. “I wake up drinking and it’s easy to face these demons that I fight,” he sings, describing a life of “riding the edge,” thankful and struggling at the same time.
For someone like me, there’s some comfort in going back through Eric’s incredibly vast catalogue and listening to what he spent his lifetime recording. Vela tells me that, while he couldn’t verify the numbers, he wouldn’t be surprised if Eric’s total creative output rivaled that of A-list, marquee-name Valley musicians like Freddy Fender. “I think it’s possible,” he says. “At least in terms of the sheer number of songs.”
And there are stories, too. I talked with the novelist Fernando Flores, whose first short story collection, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, featured characters who reminded me more than a little bit of Eric Fly. Flores reminded me of the birthday show Eric played back fifteen-plus years ago, where there were five bands on the bill, and he was in every one of them. “He wasn’t always in five bands at once, but all the planets of his bands lined up within that time frame,” he laughs. “I remember him being all sweaty.”
I moved away from the Valley when I was 21—as a Texas transplant, it was never really my home—and Flores was my roommate. The scene that Eric embodied influenced both of us in huge ways, and these stories, and the songs that came from it, are something we’ve both used to understand the world in the years since we left the region.
There are all sorts of people, like Eric, who define their local communities—even if they aren’t interested in being known outside of them. And those people matter. But for the people who really knew Eric—and the people who were closest to him—his deep body of work and the lingering memory of how much he loved music are a cold comfort in light of this loss. That’s the thing about sticking around your scene even as other people move away—the ones who stay become a family in ways that those of us who left never really get to know, and we can only try to reconstruct it from the outside. Those people will get together to reflect at the punk shows happening in the Valley this weekend, and they’ll have the difficult chance to imagine what the scene looks like without him.
“He’s gonna call us poseurs from up above,” Guzman says, laughing through tears. “That’s the way he was—he was the type of person who was like, ‘Don’t be sad, keep going. Have a punk show.’ That was always him.”