On friday november 3 Malachi Ritscher immolated himself near the "Flame of the Millenium" sculpture in Chicago. You can read about it here through the distorted mould of daily news, but I would rather suggest going straight to his website www.savagesound.com where he has a letter explaining his act (a "mission statement") and his self-written obituary. Peter Margasak also wrote a piece about him in his blog.
I would definitely prefer him to be alive at the moment as he was a unique listener of free and creative music as well as a devoted anti-war/pro-peace activist. He probably had his reasons to commit suicide, they do not concern us or the general public but we have to recgnise that the man was truthful to his passions and ideas even up to his final act. Think about it, he burned himself under the "Flame of the Millenium" with these words written nearby: "Thou Shalt Not Kill". As he puts it he spent most of his life fighting against his fears and at this moment he seemed to no longer fear death: "My position is that I only get one death, I want it to be a good one. Wouldn't it be better to stand for something or make a statement, rather than a fiery collision with some drunk driver?". And a statement he did make, here is the crux of it: "if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world", he is of course refering to the war in Irak financed by his own tax payments. He had a very hard time coping with Bush's election and the ensuing foreign policy of his country as you can read in three of his single page websites: www.unwinnablewar.net www.killthepresident.net and www.warwhores.us
He dreamt of being a writer and in his only book that "was under consideration by publishers" he advocated for the possibility of suicide after 50, today he would be 52.
He recorded more than 2000 (!!!!) concerts of improvised music, free jazz or alternative rock for no money at all, only because he was "just a big fan". Musicians in Chicago will probably feel something is missing in the upcoming year as they could spot at every concert sitting in the front row under his headphones. This is where I met him one day when I was touring the East Coast (I think it was at the Hungry Brain). He came up to me at one point, presented himself and spontaneously apologized for what his country was doing to my part of the world. I was totally surprised as I was begining to think after 2 weeks accross the atlantic that americans along cared and talked about america. I replied that he had absolutely nothing to apologize about, a passionate discussion about politics followed and slowly drifted into more conversations about free improvisation and life in general. We kept in contact eversince as he was the best person I was given to meet in the US who was not a musician.
It is specially painful for me to read these words: "If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country". It made me jump on my seat and want to go back to that night at the Hungry Brain to push this discussion further. Little did I know at the time that what I thought was an amusing sentence had such strong underlying strength and meaning... so long Malachi.