Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Postscript on Malachi Ritscher

Arguably a reasonably fair and balanced treatment of Malachi, his life, and his method of death can be found at Pitchfork Media. Kudos to author Nitsuh Abebe for giving readers some food for thought - neither making Malachi into a martyr (as some naively idealistic types might do) nor condemning his method of death as the work of a deranged and hypocritical soul (as some sneering cynics have done), but rather respectfully treats the man as a troubled person reacting to troubled times. This graf in particular sums it up aptly:

Interpretation of the act might be up in the air, but the one thing just about everyone agrees on is the wish that he hadn't done it. His siblings and parents, proud as they can be of how much he meant to the Chicago music world, or even his final actions, are obviously grieving; his son Malachi, faced with this final estrangement, is obviously hurt. And the musicians around him will certainly feel the loss of someone who'd been a constant presence in their world. The most they can do us try to find something positive in it. "There's nothing I can argue with, apart from the final action he took," says Zerang. "Roeper's last line was something like, 'It's going to be a futile act,' but the jury's out on that, right? Something can come of it, it can resonate with people. And if that happens, it's not a futile act. And the people in the community here in Chicago are talking and looking at things differently-- so right there, it's not a futile act. For better or worse, he changed something."

Just as important, there's everything else he left behind. A few days after his death, a package arrived for Bruno Johnson, owner of the free-jazz label Okka Disk: It contained, as reported by the Reader, "[Ritscher's] will, keys to his home, and instructions about what should be done with his belongings." Among his possessions is one legacy: An archive of the Chicago experimental scene stretching back for two decades. And for the musicians, there's another: The memory and invaluable support of at least one enthusiast who, no matter when they were playing, and no matter how few people showed up, was always there to cheer them on.

Apparently a grad student at University of Illinois-Chicago has been motivated to start a website, I Heard You, Malachi. Hopefully she'll flesh it out into something worthwhile.

In the meantime, we in the US live under a government run by people who are committing genuine acts of insanity on a mass-scale (from the wars that are inflicting fiery deaths and injuries in the hundreds every day as of this writing, to the continued decimation of our environment, to the massive spending spree that threatens to burden our kids and grandkids with mountains of debt for decades to come). However ill-advised I consider self-immolation, I have to wonder which is crazier - that particular act or the nearly catatonic state of the American Zeitgeist. My money is on the latter.

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