"Music creates order out of chaos; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous." -Sir Yehudi Menuhin
On Monday, July 23, 2001--much to the shock of all that knew and loved him--Richie Lee took his life. His artistic contributions to the world were great, though few recognized his talent. In the manner of many artists that preceded him, Richie traveled his own path through life--not always the easiest or the best--but the experiences he collected along the way provided the fuel for his work. He had the ability to embrace all the facets of our existence without filtering any of the emotions and distill them into a spare poetry. It was his gift and ultimately his burden.
I got to know Richie as a result of the website I created for Acetone. At first I only thought to put together a fan site with information from other published sources and perhaps their record label. I didn't meet him until after the site was up when they came through Chicago on their 1997 tour with Spiritualized. From that point on I'd talk to Richie (the only person I had a phone number for) now and then, but I had a hard time determining what exactly the relationship was. I often felt like an overzealous fan that was bugging him with trivial questions. When I became more comfortable, we would have conversations on just about anything that would come up. I found that many of the reference points in our lives were similar enough so that we didn't really have to delve into facts about ourselves in order to achieve that deeper understanding that you get with old friends.
Then there would be a long period where I wouldn't hear from him. I assumed with the length of time between albums that he was busy with his life and I would fall back into my other interests. Then news about the band would crop up and I would think about calling him for details and the fears of intruding on his life would creep back. All that changed when Richie called while on the way to Chicago earlier this year. This time when he apologized for not staying in touch it somehow clicked that I wasn't just some guy he had to deal with because I did the website. I had a great time talking to him while they were in town and this time I vowed that I would keep in contact. After a rough couple of months dealing with buying and moving into my first house, I decided to call Richie. On the way into work I listened to a webcast of the New York shows while mulling over the things I needed to ask him. When I got to work there was an email waiting for me stating something that just didn't register-Richie had ended his life.
To tell you the truth, I don't think I've really let myself accept that he's gone. As I write this, I hear his voice in my ears and his words and his face surround me as I page though the bits and pieces of his life I've collected. I'm left to regret the things I never got a chance to say or the promises made but never kept. Most of all I mourn the loss of all that will never be known. For those who discover it, the timeless music he created provides a cherished narcotic. We can only hope that Richie understood the impact and value he had on so many lives. We must find consolation in the fact that his soul lives on in the music he leaves us with and the hearts of those he has touched.
If You Only Knew...Acetone
The first time I heard Richie Lee's voice I was in a bad place. The year was 1993. I was marooned in an apartment in Albany, California, working an awful job at UC Berkeley, trying to put a band together, and generally not having a very good time of things. My girlfriend was friendly with a publicist at Virgin, and he sent us a package. Rifling through the stack of promo CDs, most of which were recorded by bands trying desperately to be Nirvana or whatever the radio monster craved that month, I came across a peculiar white record called "Cindy." The first song, "Come On," destroyed me. Richie sang it. It was gorgeous, visceral, poetic, fierce, beautiful. It was everything my miserable suburban existence was not. And that was just the first song. That album saved me. Richie Lee (and Mark Lightcap and Steve Hadley) saved me.
I was never close to Richie. We didn't grow up together, or go to the same school, or play music together. We shared a handful of times and laughs the way that musicians and journalists often do, usually backstage at shows or on the phone during interviews. But I remember him as an incredibly generous, kind person, someone who would always take the time to talk and ask how you were doing. That kind of selflessness is rare among people in the spotlight, and it wasn't lost on me.
I made my love for Acetone plain numerous times in print and in drunken assaults on the band after shows. Being gracious, they eventually welcomed me into the fold as someone who understood. And listening back to their records, I stand by every slurred word. Their music is a stunning anomaly in this age of 2-second attention spans and pre-fabricated radio fodder with a shelf life of hours. Richie knew this. "Acetone's never really been the kind of band where we'd sit down and say, 'That's gonna be a radio hit,'" he told me recently over the phone. "That hasn't really been what we do, just based on how we write and why we write." Richie played music and painted and created for the right reason: because he had to, because nothing else came close to making him feel that way. And in doing it he enriched all of our lives more than he ever knew.
The last time I saw Richie he was happy. The band were touring in support their new record, and they were phenomenal. Backstage, he asked me how I was doing and we made plans to see each other in Los Angeles. I'll always remember Richie that way: happy, at the top of his game, loving his band, a phenomenal musician and an amazing person.
I often think back to when I first heard Richie's voice, in that apartment, on that street, almost a decade ago. It's not a stretch to say that he profoundly improved the quality of my life then, and that he will until my last breath. I've spent years singing his songs, but never thought I'd sing one back to him.
"Just close your eyes, and sleep."
Peace, brother. We'll miss you.Tim Scanlin