Dia de los Muertos
For Joseph Roth, 1973-2013
Once upon a time a bunch of misfits managed to find each other in the suburban sprawl of Long Island. They were different in many ways from those around them. But together they belonged–finally–in a way that required no conformity, no change in their ideals, and no interaction with the general public, thank goodness. They were beautiful freaks, awkward, confused, righteous, intense, emotional basketcases, afflicted, inept, and ahead of their time.
They grew as a family in an alternate reality, peripheral to all else. Together they realized that it’s okay to not be happy with how things are. It’s okay to want something different. To feel different. Because they had each other. And they had their music. They found themselves in songs and rejoiced in, again, not feeling alone.
Music taste, we snobbishly said, is indicative to the kind of person you were. We were, after all, rare import b-side 7″s tucked away at Kim’s Underground. Mainstream culture didn’t phase us. We had yet to become marketing demographics and there was no such thing as Google then. You had to earn your way into our world. All of this was celebrated isolation. Antisocial? Kind of, yeah. But it was backlash–a rage against the machine (although we would never listen to such trite). It was us saying to the world we lived in, “we don’t need your world; we made our own.”
Misfits through the bone, we were a family. We lived, loved, and cried together. We fought through the most important obstacles of our lives together: learning how to be okay with ourselves and holding on to who we were in a world that seemed to celebrate the wrong things.
This was youth. Difficult for those who felt to an impractical level. Difficult for those who took it all to heart. Difficult for those who, for whatever reason, self-created or inborn, had an emotional range that spanned the highest peaks to most treacherous valleys. Growth–life–happens on flat, secure terrain. But not everyone has the luxury of finding that under their feet. Joe didn’t.
In this difficult youth, Joe was my big brother. And like a brother he could be frustrating sometimes, could be protective, could embarrass me, could understand quickly what would take me too long to explain to anyone else… but most of all he could appreciate all of who I was with acceptance, support and love. The kind he wanted. The kind that, you learn, everybody wants.
I’ll never forget Joe. I’ll never forget the music he gave me. I’ll never forget the love and understanding. And I’m going to keep trying to be the Karen he thought I was. Much love. Rest in peace, Roth.