Tuesday, June 20, 2023


I have lost my oldest friend. I have lost a brother. Russell & I met when I was in seventh grade & he in eighth at Memorial Middle School in Garland, Texas. Russell died last weekend.

He in recent years reminded me that at a gathering of something called the Beta Club (kind of a middle school National Honor Society) we ended up talking about the Beatles all night. It was music which bonded us. He made me my first David Bowie mix tape. He loved the Cars & Talking Heads & played them for me. When I asked him what he knew about Elvis Costello, he said, "He's a genius," which encouraged me - it practically compelled me - to buy his records. More than my actual brothers, he laid my musical foundation.

Russell was a talented guitarist, drummer, & songwriter who, in his lonesome teens, made full albums in his bedroom. I was awestruck. I somehow convinced him to form a "band" with me when I was in twelfth grade & he was attending junior college. He played music while I "sang" dumb things to make him laugh. Because Russell was the funniest person I've ever met. & when you can make the funniest person you know laugh, it's a kind of euphoria most drugs can't give you.

Russell channeled his wicked sense of humor into prank calls, gaining a notoriety for pranking conservative religious talk shows as the old woman Melba Jackson. You can explore that at your leisure at his Bandcamp page. Later still he would appear on Self Help Radio as my spiritual mentor the Rev. Dr. Howard Gently. Recording that every week for years remains some of my happiest moments.

Russell & I had a couple of falling outs (fallings out?) like friends do. But because we were friends, we found our way back to one another. In many ways it made us closer.

In the 1990s, he met a beautiful & smart woman named Liz who shared many of the same interests as he did. Although it was fun for me to find out about their differences. They married & had beautiful cats & when Magda & I visited & later lived in Dallas we got to share meals with them, especially at Kalachandji's. I can see the four of us there now, stuffing our faces & talking. He & I both commented about our dumb luck in finding incredible women willing to condescend to marry us. I don't think either of us have ever taken that for granted.

There is so much more to say about my friend because he's worth writing a book about. He was so very smart & so unbelievably funny & yet like many of that ilk he was tortured by depression. The last few years the medicines he was taking stopped working. When I visited Texas this past March I told him I'd like to see him but understood if he wasn't up for that. I wish I had been more pushy. I wish I had texted him more.

Next week I am going to play nothing but Russell on my three radio shows. Old cassette recordings, some of his songs, Melba Jackson, Howard Gently, & more. & I have so many things yet to say about him, so many stories, thoughts, & feelings, just not right now, it is so hard to believe he's gone. How is that possible. It can't be possible.

1 comment:

LMW said...

I think I'm done crying for the moment, and I can't not say anything, so here goes. I met Russell sophomore year of high school. He sat in front of me in geometry. I recognized him from the hallways, as he was one of the only people I'd ever seen wearing a B52's t-shirt. It was from the Mesopotamia tour. We started talking, and I quickly realized that he was incredibly cool. Not "cool" cool. Actually cool. He gave me my first Bowie mixtape, too, and it blew up my world. He also introduced me to Elvis Costello, which...you either get that or you don't. He also gave me a couple of Black Locust tapes. Black Locust was the band that he formed with his next door neighbor when they were kids. Russell played cardboard boxes with drumsticks, and the neighbor played an electric guitar that had two strings. Their song subjects included Ultra-man and the German names for many kinds of hats. It was sublime. He also gave me tapes of some of the music he was recording at the time, and it blew me away. It was catchy, funny, smart...it was real music. I started coming over to his house on weekends to hang out. We spent hours and hours and hours making and listening to music. And talking about movies, and laughing about how stupid everyone was, and filming ourselves being what we thought was HILARIOUS on his family's vhs video camera, and all the other things that smart, socially inept teenaged boys do. I keep thinking that I've seen him fairly recently, but I went through old emails and realized that I last saw him in 2008. Fifteen years ago. And the last time we connected online was a year and a half ago. I know that you can't think you could have somehow helped when someone you love does this. But it's hard not to. I know that now. I'm going to continue drinking and crying tonight. And I'm going to miss Russell forever.