Last month, one of those “Your Memories” posts showed up on my Facebook feed. It was a picture of me with my band, Viking Skate Country, sharing the stage at the Sierra Nevada Big Room with the small orchestra of the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective. The pic was taken in September 2017—by man-on-the-scene Ken Pordes— during an event called Small Town, Big Sound, a community production with Uncle Dad’s backing the original songs of local artists.
I clicked through some memories from that evening and was stopped by a photo of backup singer Jenise Coon standing next to me—and belting out the song with gusto. It is such a beautiful image (by Caitlyn Young, for The Orion) of a performer lost in the moment. It’s a fantastic memory, and a heart-crushing one for anyone who knew Jenise, who died Sept. 15, 2020, and is greatly missed.
Despite experiencing one of the most gratifying performances of my musical life, that September weekend is bittersweet for more than one reason. At the time, my house was filled with mourners. My nephew Brady had died suddenly the week before, and we were a collective wreck as we tackled the incomprehensible. I sneaked out of the house to play the show. It felt wrong to tell anyone.
Back on Facebook, I clicked on a video link of the performance. The song we played is a cathartic tune called “Distortion,” and as I re-listened I remembered that I’d written it as a tribute to Shae, the daughter of my friend/drummer Robert Smith. Our band was born one night as Robbie and I sat by a backyard bonfire and talked music and about Shae’s untimely death at the hands of a drunken driver the year before (Sept. 30, 2014). The very first notes Robbie and I played during our initial jam would end up being the first notes of “Distortion,” a song about how life can completely change with one decision.
This September narrative flooded through me recently as I sat bawling at my computer, trying to finish writing a eulogy for my sweet, badass nephew Drew, who died in May and whose life we celebrated on Sept. 3. The grieving has only begun. And that’s why I’m writing this here. I gotta grieve. Everyone does.
In my efforts to try and figure out how, I have spent some time reading through the Red Hand Files, a website of conversations with fans by one of my heroes, Nick Cave. The Australian musician has written much on the subject in the wake of the deaths of two of his sons in the past decade, including this: It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable.
That is just so beautifully said, and for me it’s been so helpful. The way I’m choosing to look at it, when things get dark, grieving these—and many other—recent losses will keep me connected and keep the love alive.
Jason Cassidy is editor of the Chico News & Review