Thursday, December 07, 2006

"What is one more life thrown away in this sad and useless national tragedy?"

Yesterday I was made aware of the sad story of Malachi Ritscher. The news came through a friend who had met him and himself only learned of the story himself the day before yesterday.

Malachi Ritshcer killed himself by setting himself on fire next to a freeway leading into Chicago during rush hour a few days before the recent US Elections in protest at the Iraq war. It barely made the news anywhere. I am posting this story and the links to read it in greater detail because maybe if just one other person reads this and passes it on it will not make up for the lack of coverage, but it will at least mean his act of misguided desperation is not forgotten

I can't say this any better than it was told to me, so with thanks to David Stubbs who agreed to me reproducing his (as ever, finely written) words
One memorable morning, he took us way out of Chicago city centre, out along the riverside, a drive which took in ever-varying facet's of the city's sprawl which we'd never have seen otherwise. We drove for about an hour - he wanted to treat us to breakfast at his favourite pancake house, where I encountered one of the most impressive omelettes I have ever seen in my life, an omelette which could have housed a family of seven, let alone fed them. After that, it was a trip to his favourite vinyl/bootleg store, where I managed to pick up a copy of Stevie Wonder's long-unavailable crossover album, 1971's Where I'm Coming From.

Along the way, Malachi regaled us with tales of his life, of his incarceration following an anti-war demo in 2003 and his subsequent suit against the city, of the bizarre homemade sauce of which he was making vast quantities, and, with the Kerry-Bush election coming up, politics. He was a political guy, was Malachi but sanely, proportionately and eloquently so. He made me think a) that the USA is divided roughly 51-49 between assholes/nice guys, with the former in the marginal ascendancy (or so it felt in 2004); also that, you could travel in the US, if only for a few days, and have a wonderfully skewed experience of the place, meeting only guys like Malachi and his like - generous, politically impassioned, in the know about where to get the best breakfast.

On November 3 of this year, a few days before the midterm elections, Malachi Ritscher set himself up by the side of a Chicago expressway with a small video camera and a sign reading "Thou Shalt Not Kill", doused himself in petrol and, in the tradition of Buddhist priests in the 60s, set himself alight and burnt himself to death.

Insofar as the event was covered, it was dismissed as the actions of a fringe, raging eccentric. Malachi may have been eccentric by the noxiously centric standards of these times but he was not a madman. Whatever, this shocking story, which you would imagined would have at least been good for some sort of coverage, particularly in these news-hungry, 24 hour newsak days, managed to go effectively uncovered. I've been somewhat distracted be events recently and, to my shame, only found out about this story this evening when meeting ex-colleagues at The Wire.

I don't think I can really hope to supplement anyone's imagination, or the limits of our imagination, as to the despair, loneliness, fury, courage, misguidedness, determination that would lead a man to take their own life in such an excruciating way. But fuck it, to think that such an act could manage to go virtually unacknowledged... well, anyway, I'm raising a glass right now to Malachi. I hope he's somewhere.

The Guardian
reported it last week, and there was a longer piece in Pitchfork. But to really get the full sense of what drove this man to this act, it is worth reading what amounts to his own suicide note, from which the title to this post is taken, and his own obituary - as he says:

"He had many acquaintances, but few friends; and wrote his own obituary, because no one else really knew him."

I read this story again today, as I read it yesterday, with an incredible mixture of emotions - sadness, anger, pity, and a need to pass it on. I hope someone who reads this feels the same.

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