I didn’t know Drew and Joe. I only saw them perform one time with Circus Contraption. I’ve only been to Café Racer a few times for take out coffee, a quick cup on the way from Trading Musician to somewhere else. But like most of Seattle I’ve been profoundly disturbed by the loss of these freaky musical geniuses. And while their horrific murders have the headlines, and rightfully so, there were two other deaths in my music world last week that in their quiet ways were somehow just as disturbing.
Nick Consoletti was a too smart and kind for this world. A genius physicist, philosopher and shy musician, Nick made a legion of friends around the world, though he lived a practically homeless existence. To the casual attendee at the Victory Music open mic where I met Nick a number of years ago he seemed another guy who probably lost the thread somewhere, but as this brief quote from one of his papers on the Bohmian Dialogue attests, he was really someone who had woven many threads together:
“Bohmian Dialogue aims at exploring the limitations of thought. Such understandings contribute to the harmonization of individual, social, cultural, and cosmological dimensions by releasing collective insight, or proprioception (self awareness), that dissolves fragmentation. The emerging coherence contributes to humanity’s living in a sane and secure manner.”
I don’t know if Nick ever met Joe or Drew, but I can imagine they would have gotten on famously. And while Nick wasn’t a showman, he might have been coaxed to bring out his mountain dulcimer or travel guitar and play a few songs. After spending the Memorial Day Weekend at Folklife, Nick returned to his home in Portland, where he died the day after the shootings, victim of faulty kidneys and an even faultier health care system.
As tragic as these three deaths are, at least these men enjoyed life and made music, madness and loving friends solidly into middle age. For Ruby Smith, life was choked off at 17 by an aggressive cancer that did its dirty deed in 9 months time, taking with it phenomenal bass player and a beautiful loving girl, the light of Kate Smith and Theo Dzielak’s lives. I never had the fortune to meet Ruby, but I know Theo a bit through the anchor he has created in the Greenwood community, the Couth Buzzard, and I learned about her struggle and her musical prowess from his postings. The Couth is a bookstore/cafe that must surely be the Greenwood version of Café Racer, a community home, a place where music, poetry and other performance are nurtured along with literate and caring conversation.
Four musical beauties gone in a 24-hour period. How can you make sense of that loss? Many of us will turn back to music, playing together on the street in front of Café Racer, or this weekend’s second line, arranging benefit concerts to raise money for the families left behind. And many of us will try to process our balled up feelings by writing songs.
(Update: There is a day of music and appreciation for the Couth on Saturday June 23. Music from 10:30 am on! I’ll be playing a short set at 2:30 pm)
For me, these deaths come together and seem to signify something bigger than random violence or the fragility of our health. They feel like a confirmation that our zeitgeist has changed, horribly. That the pendulum has swung so far away from the Age of Aquarius that these dark times will only get darker. But the hidden gift in the horror of tragedy is that it serves to pull us together, to belie the fantasy that each man is an island…
I’ve thought a lot about community these last few days: about what draws people together, and what is my relationship and responsibility to community. I don’t have a café or pub that serves as my living room, and while I’ve played the same open mic for a decade and mc or run the sound system regularly, I question the limits of what I’ve really contributed on human terms. Ruby, Joe, Drew and Nick were all people who gave, probably much more than they got. Certainly the same can be said for the Couth’s owner Theo, and, from what I read, the folks who run Racer as well.
And so, as bad as I feel for the grieving loved ones, and as fearful as I feel knowing that, like the folks at Café Racer, I’ve had to ask disruptive people to leave a venue, or even the food bank that occupies the ground floor of the social service agency where I work, I also feel bad for myself. Bad that I don’t have a more loving heart for the damaged souls I’ve encountered. Bad that I don’t give more where I can, or give even more where I do. It’s a lot to ponder on top of the grief and anger and fear. And I suspect I’m not alone in our community in terms of how profoundly these events have hit me.
Like I said, lots of people will draw from music to find comfort in these times, and others of us will create it as a way to try and understand. Here’s one small attempt I’ve made to help pull it all together for myself, and, maybe, for you. I don’t know whether to call it “Through these darkling days” or “Clowns and geniuses pushed aside.” What do you think?
(unnamed song for Drew, Joe, Nick and Ruby)
I saw my ghost walking in the park
His face was drawn his eyes were dark
In his satchel was everything he owned
There was a faint taste on the wind
Smelled like her lip gloss again
A memory of what our lives had been
This ain’t the Age of Aquarius anymore
Mars is marching us to war
Flowers crumble and blow away in the desert wind
But through these darkling days
I know we’ll find our way
And peace and love must surely come again
Another time the music’s died
Clowns and geniuses pushed aside
A ruby rose cut down mid-bloom
Salty tears on our tongues
We’ll start again what we’d begun
And through the darkness find our way home
Fingers on our strings and keys
We’ll sing our memories
Raise our voices so we’re not alone
From the Racer to the Couth
Joyous music, raise the roof
We’ll sing and dance until the end of time!
Yeah, through these darkling days
I know we’ll find our way
And peace and love will surely come again