'Til death don't they part: Nowhere Man, Whiskey Girl leave us, together
"Amy's been suffering for a few weeks and, in hence, I've been kind of suffering. And I like the idea of taking just, taking some morphine and going out like a rock star."
— Derrick Ross, speaking about the possibility of losing his wife.
There's nothing special or unique about death. People die all the time.
This doesn't make it any less painful, of course. You see, I went to work the other day and a friend told me through watered eyes that she was worried about her friend. She was talking about Amy Ross, of course, our Whiskey Girl, because Amy was going in for surgery in Tucson. When someone's being prepped for major surgery, it's understandable for one to guard oneself against the worst.
Anybody else who knew Amy consoled themselves with reminders the fact that she'd been successfully battling lupus for decades, that she'd been told by physicians time and again that she doesn't have much time left, and that she'd always pulled through before, tough as an ox. We all knew that it'd all work out for the best.
But people die.
What was unusual was that news of Amy's death came through Facebook, with comic Doug Stanhope at the helm on her Facebook account, speaking for her, through her profile. And the news ricocheted instantly.
It was a whimsical message, despite its gravity, and there was humor. There's nothing more bizarre than seeing a familiar profile picture icon with heavy words beside it: "Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning and Derrick (her husband) didn't know how to tell you."
Seeing someone announce their own death on Facebook is a unique experience.
Like anyone that knew her - and having known her for 10 years - I immediately knew it was true. As the comments began to pour in, there was a brief moment of relief when one of Whiskey Girl's relatives insisted that it was all hoax, begging people to please stop. I wanted to believe the hoax was true, but it wasn't. We'd lost her.
It's hurts to lose somebody like Amy because all she ever did was make people happy. That appears to have been what her mission was, where her passions rested. The loss is real, and it runs deep in Amy's circle, but we also knew that it'd be coming at some point.
People might exclaim that she's too young, that there's so much more that she could have done, but this is all beside the point. She did everything she could with the time that she had, and that's admirable enough; worthy of celebration.
It wasn't until the following morning, when we learned that Derrick chose to join her, that real grief began to set in. While the business of life has to keep going on for all of us, it was arresting to learn of Derrick's passing, to have occasion to imagine what he must have been going through before he pulled the trigger, and why it couldn't have been prevented.
I've been thinking a lot about this over the last several hours, and I prefer to disregard those notions that suicide is a cowardly act, that it's selfish and wrong.
He made a decision. He had every right to make that decision. I just have to trust, as I think everyone else needs to, that it was the right decision, despite the grief that it has visited upon his family, his friends, and this community.
I met Amy and Derrick 10 years ago in a dimly lit bar in Tucson. I'd actually gone there because I didn't have a lot of cash and I saw that there was no cover charge, but I was divorced from 10 hard-earned dollars anyway because I just had to have that album. It was hard not to love them immediately and take those songs home. I haven't listened to that album, "Just Like The Others," in a while, and I didn't know, until yesterday, that that was their first recorded album together.
The cover art of that album is almost poetic now. It's a cartoon depiction of the two of them, seated calmly in front of a single gravestone in a cemetery. Amy passed and Derrick brought a gun back to their Bisbee home. They lived and died together, more or less, and for all of the sorrow, our grief is a result of the years of happiness that they chose to give us.
People like Amy and Derrick are rare. In a small town, bridges easily burn. Everybody knows everybody else, to one extent or another, and we're always brushing shoulders. A trip to the post office takes 90 minutes because you don't want to not say hello to the two dozen people you run into. This is the "how" and the "why" of how the news of Derrick's suicide spread so quickly.
I've been sitting on my porch listening to "Just Like The Others," thinking about my two friends. They made themselves public, they were performers, they were all of our friends. In a community, an incredibly small community, where it's so incredibly easy to alienate oneself if one chooses the wrong words or takes the wrong political stance, it seems like Derrick and Amy were thoroughly well-loved by everybody they ever spoke to, everybody they ever made music for, anybody and everybody they ever collaborated with.
Artists and performers are notorious for large egos and iron-clad opinions. It's not uncommon to hear about bandmates fighting, to hear of disagreements running rampant and, as far as I know, this never happened with Amy and Derrick. They just made music.
I've been here long enough to have met many of the folks that live here. I can't think of a single person that has one sour word regarding Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl. They gave of themselves fully, they were whimsical, and they were kind. They were the first to offer a smile and an embrace, and they always managed to uplift others.
These sentiments may sound cliché. We try to find the best and most positive words to describe our departed friends and loved ones. In this instance, however, it's absolutely true.
What I find heartening about the social network, about comedian Doug Stanhope's participation in passing this information along through Amy's profile page, is that their music is actually spreading. Every mourner in town is posting links to articles and videos. I've already heard several stories from my own friends and from the friends of others, how sorry they are for this loss, even though they never knew Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl. Their music and their videos illustrate a loving couple, making music and sharing a stage, lovingly, together. There's something amazing about the fact that, after their passing – and to a certain extent, because of their passing – that their life's work, injecting happiness into people's lives, continues.
I expect that this will happen for some time.
I'm happy to share my own experience, handing folks a copy of an album that I bought in a dimly lit bar in Tucson 10 years ago. People express how sorry they are and that they, too, think that Nowhere Man & A Whiskey Girl are a treasure.
And they are.
People die all the time. All around us. They're everywhere under our feet.
Next to Amy and Derrick, few people have managed to be so happy so much of the time. Few have managed to touch as many lives as they have, despite how restricted they were. With Amy's illness, they couldn't travel far but they always found a way to perform and, for the past 24 hours, people all over the world have expressed their gratitude and their sorrow.
Folks around town came quickly together to mourn Derrick and Amy's passing, to celebrate everything good that they gave us. I only regret that I didn't manage to go down and listen to Amy make music at The Copper Queen Saloon that one last time two Wednesdays ago. I'm also reminded of all the times that I told people, working here in Bisbee, how essential it is that they go see Nowhere Man & A Whiskey Girl do their thing on stage.
I know I'm not alone.
This is something of a tourist town, with a steady influx of travelers from all over the world. I imagine that anybody who lives in Bisbee might recall at least one instance in which they insisted that someone absolutely had to go and see Amy and Derrick play.
Derrick talked often about how "she's the brains, she's the genius," and that he was just along for the ride. That may have been true. But sifting through all the photographs and recordings, I haven't found a single example where he wasn't smiling, engaging, laughing, and making people happy.
He may have been in the habit of selling himself short, but Derrick was an essential man; he and Amy were always together. It's fitting that he followed her in death. Our Nowhere Man didn't want to be without his wife, and that's okay. There's been plenty of talk about what is or isn't right, what it means to take one's life. One of our friends passed away, and I don't see anything wrong with his decision. As it turns out, death couldn't part them, either.
I'm no poet, so I'd like to quote one of our Bisbee residents here regarding our Whiskey Girl:
Beautiful songbird of comedic candor, dark dreamy mischievous eyes roll up into the ceiling reading the words inside the light fixture, in perfect pitch of lilting swagger, she pipes out the 4,000th genius rendition of anyone's song, her fingers feel the brail of keys and tumble across with soulful ease, she made us laugh, and rock and dance, and sing and feel. We love you and will never forget you.
— Carolyn Torontos
Enjoy every sandwich, kiddos.
You're loved by each and every one of us. Hope it's a good ride.
I know I'm drinking whiskey tonight.