Travis Fristoe is dead. I’ve re-written that sentence so many times now. My friend Travis is dead. Travis Fristoe died. My friend Travis killed himself. None of them were right and that one isn’t either but the cold neutrality of it is the closest to appropriate I’ve got. Travis is someone who I only knew for a few years, but whose influence on my life is ongoing and impossible to quantify. I think he had that sort of impact on a lot of us.
I don’t want my voice to be prominent in the narrative about his life and death. In fact, I wasn’t going to write anything. But last Sunday in Brooklyn there was a potluck for friends of his to get together and share memories. I had known he’d been dead for two days by then but hadn’t really cried. I hadn’t been able to. The potluck was nice, but it wasn’t until most of the guests had left and I was sitting around the table with a few close friends that I was able to truly access my emotions and really let it all out. Afterwards I felt spent and exhausted.
When I got in the car to head home, there were two guys on Hot 97, NYC’s premier rap radio station, talking about the passing of Sean Price, an MC from Brownsville who had just died unexpectedly. He hadn’t been a prominent figure in the eyes of people outside the rap world, but he’d been grinding since the mid-90s and it seemed like, without ever really taking too much shine for himself, he had affected many people in that community. In between Sean Price tracks spanning his entire catalog, the DJs talked and took calls from other people who were reeling from his loss, acknowledging that as a community they may have taken this fixture for granted, because it hadn’t occurred to them that he might be gone one day.
I sat in my car for almost an hour after I parked listening to them. A foundation of Travis and my friendship was discussing rap minutiae. In fact, there’s an idea that has come to define much of what I do that was first workshopped in a conversation I had with Travis in a park in Greenpoint. We were talking about posse cuts, when a rapper invites all their friends on a song with them. Think Scenario, Sippin on Some Syrup, or more recently maybe the I’m A Coke Boy Remix, though frankly Chinx Drugz’s verse on the original is way better. Point is, we were talking about how punks can’t do posse cuts because it just doesn’t work and yeah maybe you can have a split 7” or whatever but there’s really something so special about that kind of public declaration of allegiance and friendship. When I was like, “I guess Slice Harvester is kind of my ongoing posse cut, isn’t it?” Travis understood what I was talking about. Our conversation drifted back to the radio rap we were excited about, I don’t remember what else we talked about and soon Travis had to go to dinner. But that moment was galvanizing for me. It coalesced so many vague ideas I’d had into one crisp and succinct concept. It’s unlikely I would’ve had such a revelation in conversation with someone else.
So two nights after Travis’ death it felt appropriate that I was sitting in my car listening to these strangers on the rap station mourn their lost friend. This moment of intense vulnerability, played out for everyone to see, got me thinking about the nature of public grief and how we mourn public figures. Travis spent his life making things to share with people, and in the time since his death it’s been uplifting to see how far reaching his influence has been. I just want to add my voice to the throng of his friends and fans.
I first met Travis when a band I was driving on tour stayed at his house in Gainesville. I got wasted on Jim Beam in his driveway while we all told stories and at some point we realized that my old band, Gloryhole, had played our first show with his old band, Reactionary 3, at the Jerk Haus in Sunset Park many years prior. Eventually I passed out, woke up, drove off.
At the time I was just getting started reviewing pizza and I had a donation button on my website soliciting readers to pay for a slice. When I got home from tour I noticed that Travis had donated $20. A hugely generous gesture! I mailed him the first issue of Slice Harvester, he sent me a letter back and an issue of his zine,America?, and our friendship grew from there.
The night I met Travis, I had just started drinking again after three months off booze and I’m sure I talked about that incessantly. Like many drunks, the twilight of my alcoholism was spent having drunken conversations acknowledging my substance abuse problems that I forgot in the morning. As we got to know each other, I was struggling with quitting drinking for good, and Travis was someone who was always willing to listen and engage when I wanted to talk about the dark stuff. I found his perspectives grounding and his insights perceptive and helpful.
Occasionally I’d get a call or a text that he was going to be in New York. Inevitably we’d meet at a library, then walk to a park where we would talk for hours about how our lives were going, why it was so vital to care about punk, projects we were working on. Travis was an inspiration to me and someone who I thought about at moments when I doubted myself, or doubted the purpose of investing all my time and energy into a group of people who, at worst, is just a bunch of jerks who vaguely like the same music. He could always help me see the bigger picture, remind me why it’s important to build community, remind me why we have to define ourselves in terms of what we believe in rather than just what we stand against. I’ll leave you with a few paragraphs from the intro to America? #15, which have always stood out to me:
“At the library last month I was thanked by another unfamiliar face who swears I let him in for free to a late-night show at Wayward where he got to play an Irish band’s drums. “I was wasted as hell, man, but I remember you being nice.” Again, I don’t remember. Will what is everyday to us eventually add to something larger?
“Opening your living space means maybe your favorite coffee mug (“skinny people have big hearts”) may disappear with a giggling New College student who’s wasted on DIY absinthe. Or having a band you don’t know spill their drink on your Glen E. Friedman book. A very small price to pay still.
“Similarly, in the ongoing efforts to “clean your room—change your life,” you will likely unearth strange and incriminating personal artifacts. How did I get this demo cd of this album? Why is this letter still on my desk & not mailed out? The cleaning up kicks up my allergies. Metaphors are no longer needed—the days provide all the examples we need. Do not become an isolated archivist. Do not let the silverfish take over.
"Outside Bentonville, near my grandparent’s home, I wasn’t expecting to find Yoko Ono lps & Octavia Butler hardbacks in the local thrift stores. Or the clippings in my great grandmother’s scrapbook (a pasted-over mechanic’s manual) or distant relatives: an untrained librarian, a small-town bicycle racer. The suicide notices ran a close second to the marriage announcements. Such oversights can become a dangerous fallacy.
"By dangerous I mean limiting. As in discounting the possibilities of where we came from, where we are now, and what we should do next. The quotidian and civilian world will always be there to fall back on. In the meantime let’s act like what we do matters.”
I know there’s something to be said about the people who seem the most sane, who seem the most stable, are sometimes the most deeply troubled. I know there’s something to learn from the fact that this person who is and was an inspiration to so many chose to end his own life on a Friday afternoon in August. But I’m not sure I have the distance yet to think about this death in any terms other than grief.
An email that I wrote to Travis two years ago began, “I'm getting ready for work so I can't write a long email but I was just thinking wistfully about how great you are and how glad I am that you're in the world.” It wasn’t infrequently that I thought of Travis and was filled with inspiration and gratitude. Now I feel his absence and I see his absence reflected in so many people around me. It hurts and when I think about him I feel as if I’ve been hollowed out and packed full with TV static. But at the end of the day this pain I’m feeling, that the people around me are feeling, is the cost of having made ourselves vulnerable enough to care for a wonderful person, and having been cared for back. A small price to pay still.