Published on September 13th, 2013 | by Luke Baumgarten5
To My Friend in Shocked, Speechless Mourning. To All of Us.
The day Isamu Jordan passed, we went to Browne’s Addition to take comfort in a friend and stumbled into a vigil.
I don’t know who suggested it or who picked the location — our friend doesn’t remember either — but somehow we ended up the first people there, carrying candles, flowers, and fliers for the PA System, Som’s long-running live-music podcast.
Our friend hid behind a Yankees cap and a big olive drab coat. He didn’t want to be out, but this was the only thing he could think to do: throw a party, like all the parties he had promoted that Som had hosted or co-promoted or played in.
The thing he and Som had done so many times together, our friend now had to do alone. It was fitting, and devastating.
The first time I cried that night, it was over the image of our friend staring at one of the posters, ticking off all the shows — maybe a dozen — he and Som had run together on that single flier.
And then, as happened at shows hosted or promoted or played in by Som Jordan, people came. The people I expected to come came. Music people. People from the scene. People from the Spokesman. The people I didn’t expect to come came. More distant acquaintances. People I didn’t realize Som knew. Bartenders. Poets. Classmates.
People brought more candles. They brought more drinks. They came in waves. An amazing breadth of people — and hundreds of them — coming and coming until the pagoda in Coeur d’Alene Park filled and emptied onto the grass.
The thunder came and then the rains, misty spear points that fell straight down, but no one left. Someone said Som was trying to blow out the candles at his own vigil.
Besides that, few people spoke. When they did, it was to console each other. To talk about how Som had been the first person to write their music up. The first person to believe in what they were doing. A teacher said Som had been the only adult able to connect with a troubled young student of hers. They bonded over hip-hop.
They were stories of events that seemed mundane at the time, because of how often Som reached out like that. They were stories, people said, that now seemed impossibly remote because Som would never be able to reach out again.
The second time I cried was after hearing all these stories.
I cried tears of gratitude at remembering and tears of guilt for having forgotten in the first place: my first interaction with Som had gone pretty much the same way.
I was 24, just back from an awful year in Seattle, not really sure what I wanted to do with a degree in philosophy and literature, when I got into a weird internet spat with Som over a story he’d written in the 7. We had a long email exchange that was definitely an argument but never devolved into disrespect. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t drop his decade of experience covering and living the arts scene as a trump card. He explained himself. He heard me out.
But then, a couple weeks later, he went further. He invited me to write a guest column.
As I stood in the pagoda last week, staring into the combined light of hundreds of lit candles, the emotions of that memory almost took my feet out.
Som gave me my first break in Spokane.
I got a job at the Inlander not long after, hired to replace the music editor. There’s a weird, antagonistic camaraderie between writers who cover the same scene for competing papers. Som and I became rivals. The Inlander had recently beaten the Spokesman in overall readership but the 7’s content was so strong, and they were miles ahead of us on the web.
I had no clue what I was doing. I had never worked in a newsroom before. My coworkers were talented writers, but no one at the Inlander at the time was hustling the way Som was hustling. So rather than following anyone in my office, I followed Som. Or rather, I tried to beat Som. I tried to break bands before he did. I tried to out hustle him. I stayed out late at shows. I stayed up all night writing.
I never really succeeded, but I became a professional, and an adult, trying. I began the journey to become the person I am in the years I followed Som.
The night of the vigil I felt a bitter guilt rise up in my throat — a bilious, ferric lump like my body was trying to get rid of the worst part of itself. I never told Som that he had been an inspiration to me and now I never could.
I could never tell him that I’d seen the example he’d set for how to do things with your whole heart and that I had spent my career at the paper trying to match it.
I’ve stewed on that guilt for days, now. It has surged at odd times. Gradually, though, I’ve remembered something else: I had lost Som Jordan once before.
When he left the Spokesman in that stupid and unnecessary sacking that lopped off everyone at the paper below a certain seniority level, setting the paper back years in terms of cultural memory and flat out drive, my colleagues and I writing arts at the Inlander asked ourselves how we’d keep our edge. Without someone as sharp as Som and the team at 7 to keep us honest and striving, how would we keep from getting complacent?
The answer, for me anyway, was to pretend Som never left. I didn’t do it every day, but I started doing gut checks. On any given week, had I hustled the way Som would’ve hustled? And later — once I realized that writing arts is about more than doing the story first or best, but with the sort of compassion that demands getting to know people deeply — had I listened the way Som listened? Had I cared the way he cared?
After last Thursday, those questions took on an urgency that they’ve never had before. I’m going to ask them more often and I’m going to remember the person who inspired them.
People are wondering how we’ll get along without Som. The easiest answer is: we can’t. Everything is different now and nothing the same. We can’t replace his special brightness and no two people will be able to equal his hustle.
There’s a huge, Som-Jordan-sized hole of giving-a-fuck and it’s going to take all of us to fill it.
I’m saying this to everyone, but most of all to my friend who brought the fliers and is still laid low by this tremendous loss.
I’m saying this most of all to myself:
It’s time for us to push now. Som would be pushing.
An education fund has been started for Som’s sons. Please consider donating, even a small amount. A celebration of life will be hosted at the Bing Crosby Theater this Sunday, September 15 at 1pm.