I thought of you on my run today. I think of you often, but especially running because certain bands shuffle up on the ipod that always remind me of you, like The Damned, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers. You had a big influence on my music taste. I listen to a lot of Bluegrass these days and although we never listened to it back then, I know you and The Pogues influenced my love of banjo!
When I think of you I often feel angry. I knew you were sick, but those few times I spoke to you those last few years, I kept thinking I would talk to you again. I hoped that in the next conversation you might let me do a little of the talking. I kept expecting you would get tired of the way you were living and become open to hearing what I (or John) had to say. But that day never came.
Instead I had to go to your funeral and it was one of the most frustrating days of my life. I couldn't stand so many things about your funeral, from the 40 something crowd still trying so hard to be punk, to the talk about your death and why you died.
Your mother-in-law spoke about the "mysterious Hep C - they didn't even know what it was when Joel contracted it." I sat on my hands and resisted the urge to shout out "So what! Half the people in this room have Hep C!" I have my own opinion about what killed you, but the thing that caused your demise seemed to be the only thing they had to celebrate about you; Joel's rebelliousness.
The photo of you when we came in the front door with a guitar in one hand and a middle finger up on the other seemed to represent the Joel your current friends want us to remember. Mark Malone eulogized your rebellious nature and how you were too smart to believe in God. Again I fought the urge to shout out "Don't you get it! That is why Joel is dead!"
But you didn't leave much behind for us to talk about. Sorry Joel, but it is the truth. I know you told me towards the end that you lived a great life because you went on some awesome snowboard trips. You got to record some music that some people love. And most importantly in your own mind, you lived most of your life answering only to yourself. There is so much you missed out on and it makes me so mad that you didn't even realize that you only scratched the surface of living. Like Plato's cavemen.
I am glad I have my own memory of you. I remember the Joel who whole-heartedly believed in God, in fact you helped lead me back to that path and a few others too. So you did leave a legacy. Mike Carlson told me about the time he was about to drink and ran into you at Eldorado Park. He said he wouldn't have stayed sober if he had not ran into you that day.
Plus I know how you were during that time of your life. I was there. I lived alongside you and saw how you were when you believed for years. I know you were happy then. No one can erase that memory from me.
The last chapter of your life did have some surprising twists. Most people who live a life of drinking and using drugs end up alone. You were that way for many years, then at the very end you meet up with your High School sweetheart who decides to leave her "Baby's Daddy" and marry you instead. You instantly had a wife, stepchildren, pets, a place to live, and health insurance! I thought it was so crazy at the time, but a friend of mine put it in perspective for me. After describing your life he said "So even though he turned his back on God, God did not turn His back on him. Instead, he got to die surrounded by love."
The other times I think of you is when my life is really good or really bad. Under both conditions I think "Joel doesn't get to experience this. Joel doesn't get to experience anything. His life is over." Whether it is an exhilarating high (usually brought on by exercise and nature) or low (usually spousal and money problems), I know you are having neither. Then I feel grateful just to be alive.
You were always kind to me, but I remember one of your harshest criticisms is that I "Don't rock the boat" enough. I know you wished I were more rebellious, but I wish you were still alive.
Joel: (When he was walking on he sunny side)