It is early evening, dark, and wet, and I’m ramblin’ home from work. My wife texted me, “Butch Trucks died today.” At that moment, no one knew the cause of death. I sighed. The next evening and the same ramblin’ ride home, long-time Pittsburgh disc jockey, Sean McDowell, played “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” to honor Trucks. The song ended and McDowell, almost like tagging on a song fact, noted, “Trucks shot himself in the head.” I exclaimed, “Oh Jesus Christ.”
. . . shot – himself – in – the – head . . .
It was the utter factuality of the words that provoked my response. McDowell didn’t euphemize with “suicide” or “ended his life.” He stated exactly what happened – “shot himself in the head.” McDowell’s efficient reporting made Trucks’ end intimate and personal for me, slicing through self-defenses I constructed to ward off Death.
I was married for 13 years when I threatened my wife with suicide: “Why don’t I just put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger right now!” I am still married – happily, I think – five years later..
I detail my journey from suicide threat through therapy in an article for Atticus Review. My psychologist diagnosed me with general anxiety. As I acknowledge in that article, I don’t think I was ever truly suicidal. I’m not now. But I often wish that I was never born or that I would be supernaturally extinguished.
When I was eight-years-old, my family moved into a bigger house. I often say, to the chagrin of my wife, that my life ended then. I had two brothers, but I don’t remember them much when I was young. They shared a room with bunk beds while I had my own room. In that room I lectured to an imaginary class on the Incas or Greenland from books my father had when he was a substitute teacher. For lunch my mom fixed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as I watched and mimicked Mr. Rodgers. For evening entertainment I put on shows for my parents, riffing off of the Smothers Brothers’ Mom Always Liked You Best album that my parents had. Out in the yard I played baseball by myself, imitating all of the batting and pitching styles of the 1979 Pirates. I think I was happy then. I didn’t know about anything. And that was all right. Why go on after 1980?
In 1969, the Allman Brothers’ band formed. Trucks was a founding member and drummer. Being one of my favorite bands, they were serious about music. At least guitarist Dickey Betts considered the band to be “progressive.” They released long instrumentals like the dark “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” They also scored mainstream success with “Ramblin’ Man” and “Crazy Love.” And their music could be charming. I wooed my wife with “Little Martha” and “Sweet Melissa.” The band dissolved in 1976. They had their first reunion in 1979, but with different bandmates and producers, they could never fully recapture their original sound.
After hearing of his suicide, I browsed through Google Images of Trucks. In an early picture, Trucks’ appearance epitomizes the Allman Brothers Band. He is at his drum set. His tank top flaunts a flower design. He sports a hippie Western hat, from which his hair gently drips onto his shoulders. He gazes downward with small, curved eyes as if reading music or positioning for his next drum beat. He is young, creative, productive. He has ideas and expresses himself. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2016, Trucks said about the early days, “We were in another universe. We were out spreading the gospel of this music we had discovered.” He also rocked, so he had as many women and drugs and drinks as he wanted. He worshiped equally Dionysus and Apollo. Photographs preserve flashes of time. The viewer slips backwards. I wondered about Trucks in this picture: Did he know, even slightly through a subconscious blip that popped up momentarily in his consciousness, that something was amiss or that he might face a tragic end? I looked at Trucks, and warned out loud, “You’re gonna kill yourself.”
Why should Trucks be given the innocence of youth when his end is tragic? And it doesn’t just have to be death. Some of us battle recurring cancer or lose all of our money or lose our kids through a nasty divorce or end up in jail. Youth is as disposable as search results.
What if I could have gotten to Trucks earlier through that Google image and presaged, “Hey, man. You guys are outta sight tonight, but you’re gonna trade in those sticks for a pistol and shoot yourself in the head”? Sometimes I resent living. Indeed, life is actually Ok for me right now. I’m paying the bills. My children are healthy. My marriage is in good shape. But doesn’t tragedy await?
I’m rather content, but still I wouldn’t mind being whisked away into nothingness. I don’t know why Butch Trucks killed himself, but on a certain level I get it.
Trucks shot himself in front of his wife. He was 69.