Chastized by a Friend

My friends and I wrote to each other with passion when we were on the threshold of twenty.

I happened today upon the following chastizing letter a friend apparently wrote to me more than forty years ago. It is unsigned and undated, but the other letters it was tucked in with place it in 1963. I’m pretty sure I know who must have written it.

It’s harsh but on target, prompted probably by one of my many depressed letters I wrote in my adolescence, despair-drenched missives in which I flirted compulsively with the romance of suicide. I quote his response to me in its entirety, unedited.

oh howard, will you stop this shit? the last time I wrote a thing like yours i was ready to die. je(a)sus god, before you go lose your soul, your poor ofay soul, in prussian square come talk to me. look man, I laid a few on your head, but i didn’t know what was comin off. you know the word, man, but you jest so hung up. dont be so dumb. please play it cool for me, God, and the Fat Lady. for me. for mine and everybody’s goddman [sic] petty banal life. for the lovers you never had. for yourself you hate so bad.

i don’t give a shit about the dribble b——- is going to write you or the good word from b–, i don’t care about being bound in your hang ups. man, i am bitter about you. when are you going to give up this abstract image of yourself – your body mind dichotomy – and live with your body? don’t go and blow your cool. HEAR ?

The writer of the foregoing himself died by his own hand a few years later. That doesn’t invalidate his rebuke to me; it’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did, that his hands didn’t fall off his arms before he graduated from high school from all the razor slices he had applied to his wrists. His own daily pain was ten times as bad as mine has ever been. (Bipolar disorder is what they would call it today, I believe.) For a time he and I were like two people sinking side-by-side in quicksand, each trying to prevent the other from sinking. Ah, those wonderful high school years!

I was thinking about this friend when I wrote the following song lyric in 1976:

He died every day of his life
that he could.
He said, when his time came
to leave this world,
he was gonna make it good.
He said, I’m gonna give my blood
So the world will know I died.
And he planned it out
how the world would cry
that he had passed to the Other Side.

They’d say:
Good-bye, Jimmy Joe.
It’s a bummer you’ve gone to stay.
We’d like you back
For the songs you’d sing
And the melodies you’d play.
You made us cry
But the tears were sweet
And they made us feel alive.
Now your bad trip is over,
Your bones are dry,
And I guess we’ll all survive.

He wrote out a beautiful note
from his heart.
He wrote how the misery
and pain of life,
they could tear a boy apart.
How the only friend he had
Was a razor blade of steel.
And he laughed a bit,
’cause he knew damn well
how the folks back home would feel.

They’d say:
Good-bye, Jimmy Joe.
It’s a bummer you’ve gone to stay.
We’d like you back
For the songs you’d sing
And the melodies you’d play.
You made us cry
But the tears were sweet
And they made us feel alive.
Now your bad trip is over,
Your bones are dry,
And I guess we’ll all survive.

My friend Mike Lantrip (who in a jollier sprit composed the bouncy music for "Purchaser’s Clearing House") wrote a simple, haunting tune for "Jimmy Joe." The Indian Springs Glee Club even sang it in concert one year.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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