News of the tragedy that befell the Exploding Hearts in the early hours of Sunday, July 20, left me shattered, like so many others in Portland's music scene. And I really only knew those boys on a professional level.

My friend Louie Bankston was far more intimate with the three members of the promising Portland pop-punk band, all in their earliest 20s, who died in a van accident on I-5 that morning. On Monday, I briefly commiserated by phone with Bankston, once a member of the band, who now resides in his home city of New Orleans, La. Though he claimed this moment of loss left him without words, Bankston was able to put things in perspective.

"They should have lived to be able to look back and say, 'We did it all--we took it to the stratosphere,'" Bankston said. "Now these three beautiful kids are dead."

By all indications, the Exploding Hearts could have taken their adrenalized, melodic and infectious sound into the "stratosphere." Now there will be no major-label record deal. No video. No national appearances on the late-night TV circuit. Now there's no hope the kids of America will learn that pink and yellow actually do go together. That white jeans are cool. That good lyrics and sophisticated hooks make guitar-furious punk rock all the more powerful.

For now, bubble-gum pop is dead. Whatever.

On the morning of July 20, we did not only lose an indisputably great Portland rock-and-roll band that was just starting to build a frantic national following. We lost Jeremy Gage, Matthew Fitzgerald and Adam Cox--"three beautiful kids."

I, unfortunately, am away this week. To the friends and family now grieving, please accept my sincere condolences. Talking to, writing about, and being a fan of the Hearts who have passed has been a privilege and a pleasure. The rumors in town are true: Hearts are exploding in Portland this week.

Two shows benefiting family members of the Exploding Hearts will be held Wednesday, July 30.

The Diskords, Electric Eye and the Spits (plus other guests) play an all-ages show at Meow Meow, 527 SE Pine St., 230-2122. 7 pm. $5.

The Epoxies, The Riffs, The Minds and Louie "King Louie" Bankston play at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630. 9 pm. $5. 21+.