Yesterday I wrote a eulogy for my dear friend Tony Reeve, who passed away in London on October 30. As a result of this, I heard from several other friends yesterday who had, themselves, lost someone close quite recently, and two of those deaths were the result of suicide. A couple of my correspondents said something along the lines of: “I wish he would have told me.” And I wish he had.
Tony didn’t commit suicide in the conventional sense. Rather, he made a clear and lucid decision to fight on no longer, and he was a fighter. After many years of risky operations, long stints in hospitals, chronic heart problems, and appalling eyesight, he didn’t want to have to shoulder up against the pain anymore.
Using cartoons and satire, Tony waged a witty and subversive guerilla war against a world that had presented him with an awkward and failing body, and he won many battles. In chess, a good strategist knows that the best course of action is, occasionally, to resign before being crushed. The losing player might have been able to drag the game on for a few more moves, all the while knowing that annihilation is inevitable. Rather than beating your head against the wall for those extra moments, it is sometimes more gracious to admit defeat. That’s what Tony did, and I admire him for it. There is a point at which the small amount of hope offered by yet another heart surgery can no longer outweigh the guarantee of pain and discomfort which will definitely come later. While some close-minded people with extremist religious views will regard this act as a sin it is, in fact, an example of a thinking person taking dignified control over the end of his own life; a deed both courageous and honorable.
Intentional suicide visited upon oneself as a result of loss, unbearable sadness, fear, desperation, depression, or despair is another issue entirely, and I do know what it is like when you feel you have nothing left to lose. Less than a decade ago I realized that I would never see my adored mother again; my father remarried and moved far away; my rock ‘n’ roll group about which I was once most passionate had disbanded; difficult clients and relentless deadlines caused me to lose faith in my career as an art director; I was suffering from chronic health issues, possibly a result of inhaling smoke and chemicals as a 9/11 eyewitness; and my romantic partner of 12 years had shacked up with some guy she met in a New Jersey bar. I felt there was nowhere to look except down, but I didn’t. Somehow, I looked up at the night sky instead, and thought: “Really, what else have I got to lose?” It is in those moments that we can shatter what little remains of our lives, or dig deep into our heart or our soul—if you believe in that sort of thing—or if you prefer, quote a favorite Joe Strummer lyric, rouse up that last bit of defiance and anger that’s been skulking at the base of your spine and dare yourself to do something truly bold. If you really have nothing left to lose then why not risk everything on the big gamble? Whatever happens, it hopefully won’t be quite as bad as being dead.
In 2004, with my prospects looking worse than Bleak House, I sold my share in my condo—too cheaply I might add, but I wanted out right then and there, and in my experience a decent amount of cash in hand today is usually a lot better than “maybe more cash” at a later date. I put 99% of my possessions in an industrial storage joint in downtown Jersey City and announced to a few close friends that I was voyaging into the deep desert on a journey of discovery, never to return. At age 42.
To my considerable surprise, my great friend and former bandmate, Anne Husick, announced right back at me that she was going along for the ride, to keep me company and offer moral support. So we put my sweet cat, Bonnie, into a spacious travel box with plenty of comfy towels, selected one favorite bass, one favorite guitar, one computer, a few treasured books and mementos, stuffed all of them in the trunk, slapped Springsteen’s “Badlands” into the CD player and left New Jersey forever, very late on a cold and rainy January night.
For some reason, Tennessee never fails to cheer me up. By the time we were on I-81, headed towards Nashville, things were already starting to look brighter. A light dusting of snow lay across Civil War battlefields, the air was crisp and clear—like cellophane stretched over a bell jar—Bonnie was dozing in the back, Anne was trying to decide which CD to play next, and I began to fully understand, rather than just know, that there is a big world out there with endless opportunities for adventure and advancement if you can just open yourself up to them.
We spent a leisurely five days driving to Arizona, visiting Knoxville, Amarillo, the Texas Panhandle, Truth or Consequences—where Anne had an old musician friend—and Roswell because, of course, we both just had to see the fabulous and wacky UFO museum. On the long, fast run down I-10 from Lordsburg, we saw the very first green highway sign for Tucson, and when we crossed into Arizona we stopped at that first rest area, the one with the big state flag waving in gentle winter sunshine, and a hard-to-miss metal sign warning of rattlesnakes. In 120 hours I had shed my own skin, looked under a big metaphorical rock, turned over a number of leaves, rebooted my personal onboard optimism device which had been malfunctioning for some long time, and was officially ready to kick start a new life. I thought it was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done, and although it would, in time, have the biggest and best of repercussions, it really wasn’t that hard. I was suddenly at home in a new place that I knew very little about. I did have a couple of friends in Tucson, and I also knew that in a few weeks the world’s largest gem and mineral show would open up for business. How much more inspiration could a rockhound hope for?
I had a little cash, a reasonable amount of determination, and a fanatical dream of complete freedom and total artistic control over the rest of my life. If I failed I would fail spectacularly, and find myself just as miserable in Tucson as I had been in the New York Metro Area, but that was not to be the case.
I moved into a diminutive hotel suite with an in-room bar (very chic, I thought) and spent my first week in Arizona overlooking a lovely swimming pool with palm trees. It was a long way from oily, snowy, and noisy Jersey City. I soon found an unspeakably cute 1930s adobe house sporting a charmingly crooked red tile roof, in Blenman, with a rental fee that was one sixth of my mortgage back in the big, bad city. My simple but glorious residence had an actual driveway in which I could deposit my car anytime I felt like it, without feeding a meter. Cactus, lizards with black collars around their necks, and hummingbirds, populated the modest garden and—eureka!—I was walking distance from Casa Video.
I bought a used TV at Goodwill for ten bucks, hooked up the Internet and immediately began to immerse myself in all local goings-on of note, by way of the Tucson Citizen (and look where I am now!) and the Tucson Weekly. In fact, I’d only been in town for a couple of weeks before my first “Letter to the Editor” was published by the Weekly. It was, of course, political in nature, and somewhat scathing regarding certain issues related to the fake science of Creationism. “I see you’re settling in quickly,” a local friend remarked, who does not—in any way—share my political views, but who did read the Weekly and did seem fairly pleased that Arizona had adopted me.
Consider: The much-loved French artist, Henri Rousseau, also known as “Le Douanier” (the customs man), was 49 years old when he decided to give up his establishment job as a tax collector in Paris and go for it as a full-time painter. How bold is that, and how much richer is the world for having his heavenly The Dream (1910) to puzzle and delight us today?
So, my point is this: If things get so bad you feel that you need to end your life, do something even more drastic. Living is the only real adventure we have and if there is nothing left to lose then why not jump, and dare to do the thing you’ve always wanted to, but never thought you could? Tell a trusted friend that you cannot go on, as is, and if you are very lucky—as I was—that friend might exclaim: “I’m going with you!”
It is never too late to start over and, really, the worst thing that can happen is you just end up back in Jersey City.
“When you’re at the end of a dusty track,
With no hope, or desire, to turn back,
And you realize deep in your heart you’ll never be a hero,
There’s only one thing left to do,
Reset to zero”
— From “Reset to Zero” by Geoking
In memory of Tony Reeve who, right up until the end, was a hero in his own life. Joseph Campbell would have been proud.
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The author wishes to thank Arabella McIntyre-Brown for making copies of Tony’s artwork available
Text and photographs © by Geoffrey Notkin
Illustrations: “Gravity” and “Self Portrait” © Estate of Tony Reeve
All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission
“The Dream” (1910) by the great Henri Rousseau. Ca marche bien, Monsieur le Douanier!