Thoughts on the Death of Thoughts on the Dead (Without Research)

  • This post has to be written in bullet points. Because of course it does.
  • If you have to ask, you’ll never know . . .
  • Well, unless I explain it to you.
  • Or, unless you were a regular reader of that most special website that today’s post honors, in which case you know the rules, and the requirements, and the structures and meta-structures that made the whole thing work.
  • Suffice to say that me writing this post in bullet points, under the tenets of “without research,” means that you can’t interrupt me, and that I can’t Google things.

But . . .

  • No. I love you, I really do. But no. No. Bullet points are here. And bullet points must be respected. No interruptions.

Yeah, understood. Okay. Carry on.

  • Thanks. Seriously, I do love you. And I wonder where you are, and where you’ll go now. I hope Bold Guy is there too, I think, to keep you company. I suspect you two get along better than we all might appreciate here on the receiving end of your various wisdoms.
  • Say “Yo!” to Precarious for us all, ‘aight? ‘Aight??

I said “Carry on” . . .

  • You did. My bad. Here I go . . .
  • I am a terrible sleeper, due to a combination of psychological and physiological factors, which combined to force me into an arising at 4am, Arizona Time, this morning.
  • I nabbed my phone from my bedside table as I left the bedroom to make myself more comfortable, and as I do at the start of most days, no matter how early, I clicked on my saved link to Thoughts on the Dead.
  • And I saw this terrible, terrible news. Posted by Brother of the Dead (BotD), father of Nephew of the Dead (NotD), both of whom were dearly and publicly loved by my online friend, Thoughts on the Dead (TotD).
  • Who has died. Of a terrible cancer. At the age of 46. Which is too young!
  • I’m reading a book that’s about, in part, the Neolithic Period. TotD might have been an elder statesman/shaman type by making it to the age of 46 in those days.
  • Then again, maybe he would not have been. Our accepted modern understandings of the short life spans of our forebears are not necessarily correct, per this from another of my favorite online resources.
  • In any event, we live in neither Neolithic nor Medieval times, so 46 is too young, in the reality which we all inhabit, more or less.
  • And while TotD clearly did his best to keep his public persona going to the best of his ability without groveling and complaining (much) over the 10 months since his cancer diagnosis, it was pretty clear that he was suffering, and that was a hard thing to read, and hard to know, and hard to accept, and hard to comprehend.
  • And that’s just awful. And terribly, terribly sad.
  • And if I, among many, who knew TotD only through his anonymous online postings feel as sad as I do right now, then it’s beyond comprehension how bad BotD and the rest of his family and their “real world” friends and colleagues must be feeling now.
  • I extend my love and respect and compassion and care toward them all, for what that’s worth. May they find some small peace in the weeks and months and years ahead, and may they find joy in the incredible body of work that TotD left behind for all of us.
  • Because, Holy Moly, what a body of work that was!!
  • He was my favorite living, working writer, right up until the point when he wasn’t.
  • He’s now one of my favorite non-living, non-working writers. There’s a wealth of brilliance to be had among the work he left behind, novel-length and story-length tales that challenge the very best of anything I’ve read by anybody else, ever.
  • That’s not hyperbole. I’ve written about TotD numerous times on this site, sharing such accolades in real time, and not just as memorials. Here’s the list of pages here that reference him, in one way or another.
  • I loved his writing, dearly.
  • And I am something of an arrogant tool when it comes to writing, since I fancy myself as something of a fine writer, too.
  • (That’s a key part of my self-identity and self-worth, so if you disagree, you’ll hurt my feelings by doing so publicly, so why do that, right? Thanks for your restraint.)
  • As a writer, I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have a fairly finely attuned sense of what makes for good writing, and what makes for bad writing, or “blah” writing, and I can tell you without any doubt or hesitation that TotD was a truly great, once-in-a-generation caliber writer.
  • A genius, on that front. And I do not throw that word around lightly.
  • Which may sound or seem weird, given the premise of his website, where all of his public work (to the best of my knowledge) resided and resides.
  • Here’s how he described what he did. Note that putting a quote box in here is going to break the flow of bullet points, because that’s what WordPress does. That does not mean that you get to interrupt before I return to the bullet points.

But . . .

  • No. I love you. But no.

Right.

  • Right. So here’s how TotD described his enterprise . . .

My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire. Except for the stuff about Bobby: Bobby actually thought he was a fucking cowboy. He was also a terrorist, but we’ll get to that. Bob Weir is a fucking prince.

This is my first time making blog. If you enjoy what I’ve done, then that’s entirely your decision. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them, along with your choice for #16 Mississippi Half-Step OF ALL TIME.

  • It seems slight, doesn’t it?
  • Nonsensical, even. Soft. Half-baked. Not much depth there. How could this one-skit SNL-caliber concept run for days, much less months, much less years?
  • In any other writer’s hands, I don’t think it could have.
  • But TotD used that modest, humble,  soft launching point to embark upon one of the most astounding bits of world-building that I’ve ever experienced.
  • To cite but one of many examples: The Dead’s on-stage set-ups over the years could often look haphazard and amateurish.
  • That’s a fact.
  • But why was it a fact?
  • TotD created a character named Precarious Lee, who was a Dead roadie, and who took great glee in building the most structurally ridiculous stage plots possible, ideally involving low effort by the crew, disinterest from the band, and high risk to audiences, players, other crew members, the environment, the equipment, and quite possibly Precarious himself.
  • Ha ha ha! There’s a joke! Good for a solid post of chuckles, right?
  • Except . . . in the hands of a master like TotD, Precarious became a character of unexpected depth, with an incredible before- and after-story adjacent to his time with the Dead.
  • Precarious took us out on the Interstitial Highway, which was mind-blowing.
  • Precarious took us to the place where he settled (sort of), which was called Little Aleppo, and which was a neighborhood, in America.
  • And which spawned a book-length series of stories, one of which remains one of my all-time favorite reads ever.
  • Especially when it was rolling out, chapter by chapter, in real time.
  • I read it all on my morning train commute with my coffee, gleeful every day that a new installment arrived.
  • It was like being a Charles Dickens fan in the late 1800s.
  • When it was all done, I named that first Little Aleppo novel My Best Book of the 21st Century.
  • Even if it never saw the printed page. Even if it never made TotD a dime. Even if it never had to claw through the publishing industry’s maw to see to the light of day.
  • It remains brilliant, and you can still click the link above to read it, and then to read the stories that followed it at TotD’s site.
  • I strongly encourage you to do so.
  • So many great tales. So many great characters. Such incredibly refined writing, where words and phrases routinely pop from the page and shine, craftsman-like example of the ways that our language can become sublime, even when discussing the mundane.
  • A lot of it is really funny, as are a lot of other parts of the TotD semi-fictional universe, where real-world personages (living and dead) interact with created characters in ways sweet and sublime and subtle and soaring.
  • (Another Grateful Dead connection in the Little Aleppo stories: the group’s famed Wall of Sound PA/speaker system became sentient, and is now providing sound for an historic movie theater in Little Aleppo).
  • (The Wall is another great character, a fascinating exploration into the ways that an artificial intelligence might interact with the humans who surround it, often to its despair).
  • (But don’t call him WALLY).
  • But deeply integrated with all of the laughs into the weft and woof of the the TotD semi-fictional universe were moments of deep, haunting, soul-moving pathos and compassion and love.
  • And you never knew when a sad story was going to get funny, or when a funny story was going to get sad, and that’s pretty much the way real life happens, and that’s pretty much what made this little escape from real life so very, very magical.
  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of TotD’s excellence on such fronts on his website, so if you just head over there and plow through the archives, you will be richly rewarded.
  • (Expert tip: find a subject/topic you particularly enjoy, then use the categories and tags to dig deeper into the story lines associated with said topic).
  • Among that plethora of fine choices, one piece springs to mind today, and I encourage you to go read it.
  • But first: consider what’s happened in Arkansas over the past couple of days with regard to the rights, health and well-being of transgender young people.
  • And then: consider all of the other States in our country that are seriously considering similarly hateful and harmful laws.
  • And then then: read this.
  • That’s extraordinary story-telling. A short piece, that quickly introduces you to places and people who are remarkable and not, in equal measure, and makes you care about them, deeply, quickly, wholly.
  • And there’s a lesson in there, too.
  • You might learn something.
  • Or at least re-consider some other things.
  • And that makes it art, to these eyes, and to this mind.
  • Great art. Fine art. Serious art.
  • With chuckles.
  • I look at the very best things I’ve ever written, and they pale in comparison to that piece, or hundreds of other similar pieces scattered throughout TotD’s canon.
  • Wow, was he good.
  • Wow, will I miss his work.
  • And wow, will I miss him.
  • Even though I never met him.
  • Even though I have no idea what he looked like.
  • Even though I only learned his first name within the past year when Bob Weir outed him on a David Lemieux podcast.
  • Even though I only learned his last name when his brother told us all that he died this morning.
  • He was truly a Ninja Jedi when it came to online stealth and protecting his anonymity, while living fully in the public domain.
  • Hats off on that front. Well played, you.
  • So when I miss him, my brain will miss him as TotD, not as Rick Harris.
  • Though I wish I had had the chance to get to know Rick Harris, too.
  • I think we would have gotten along well.
  • Common interests and suchlike, you know?
  • Because online connections and friendships are real, for reals.
  • Truly.
  • Meaningfully.
  • Deeply.
  • I have met and gotten to know (virtually-speaking) a lot of other folks in the “Comment Section” at TotD’s site over the years.
  • A couple of them have already reached out to me this morning to make sure I knew the news and that I was doing okay with it.
  • I did know.
  • But I’m not doing okay with it.
  • I do look forward to keeping in touch over the months and years ahead with the community that TotD built.
  • Good folks. Funny. Freaky. Fine company.
  • Enthusiasts.
  • Weirdos and squares in equal measure.
  • You decide who fits in which bucket.
  • Or not. We’ll be here all the same.

All of us?

  • Yes, all of us.
  • We love you.

26 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Death of Thoughts on the Dead (Without Research)

  1. Thank you for this magnificent tribute to a man who brought the most amazing light to what is too often a dark & cold world. ToTD’s place was a must-stop in my daily amble around the Internet. I commented rarely/sporadically, but I read/savored/basked in the genius of every new post he shared – and I definitely appreciated the contributions that you & the other “regulars” made in the comment section.

    I can’t find any words that feel remotely appropriate, other than to say that we are all richer for having access to his words, and we’re all poorer because he no longer walks among us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for kind words and lovely memories. Both appreciated very much. And, yes, the days are emptier without being able to hit that TotD bookmark every now and again to love whatever new wonders he had for us!

      Like

  2. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, April 10, 2021 – Chuck The Writer

  3. I was a late arrival at ToTD, and I’m not enough of a Dead aficionado to have gotten a lot of the in jokes, but damn could that man write. I have two wishes:

    May the Little Aleppo stories be published. They deserve a wider audience, and I for one want to revisit them and share them with my wife and kids.

    And I hope somehow that ToTD is wandering the streets of Little Allepo, splitting his time between the seediest bars and Mr. Venable’s book shop.

    Go with God (or whoever) good sir.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed! I started re-reading the first LA (no, not that one) novel in the order he laid it out at the link I posted, and it’s just incredible, still and again. I had forgotten that it began with Venable, and also how early Arcade Jones appeared in the narrative. Favorites, both. They do indeed deserve traditional publication, along with the second and partial third novels. I knew enough of the Dead stories to get a lot of his riffs/jokes, but I will say that I know a lot more about them now, because when I didn’t get a riff/joke, I usually tried to figure out what he was referencing, and there was usually a good there, there.

      Like

  4. We’re all poorer for his passing, and because so many of the photos are no longer linked to the posts they inspired. But I thank you for this salute. And, as you point out, there are so many entries that stand on their own, jewel-like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the entropy of the online space is certainly hard on vast, image-intensive sites like TotD. As you note, though, for every post that was image intensive, there are lots that are image free, so it’s good to know they will endure. Well, as long as anything in cyber-space endures.

      Like

  5. Thank you for this thoughtful tribute and for offering words that reflect what so many of us feel. That was a gift that TotD had more than anyone I’ve ever encountered. He’ll be so dearly missed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, thanks for checking in.

      And yes, one of the greatest voices. A rare talent with the written word.

      I’m very glad I actually told him that on a regular basis when I had the chance to do so!

      Like

  6. Thank you for that. ToTD would’ve liked it. Although he would probably point out that i it looks like some research was done.

    Like

  7. This is a perfect tribute. I always told him he was my favorite writer. Take care, if you ever come back to Twitter, you know where to find me.

    Like

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