[While this blog will focus mainly on matters musical, it is being launched in the less-than-36-hour-old shadow of a good friend’s death. His life ended as this blog sprang into existence, so I think it appropriate to commemorate him at its commencement. You probably didn’t know him, but you may well have known someone like him, or someone who suffered (or suffers) like him.]
My friend and high school classmate Anthony Brissett passed away, Monday, due to complications from a massive heart infection.
I can’t think of a more tragic and unwarranted pronouncement by the Fates. Tony was a bright, funny, and generous person, deep of character and rich of spirit. He carried with him to the end a cadre of dedicated friends, some nurturing bonds that were formed decades ago, and others (like me) forging Facebook Era friendships after years of post-high school separation.
For nearly two years, Tony lived a tortured and tortuous life. A catastrophic series of strokes (a by-product of an earlier heart infection that had gone cruelly and inexplicably undiagnosed) wiped out most of the right side of his body. His heart required multiple surgeries to repair damage that he never should have suffered in the first place.
He spent the lion’s share of the last two years in various hospitals, staring at blank walls and decrepit televisions, subjected to an unceasing cacophony of others’ wheezes and moans and the constant beeps and pings of the machinery that kept him and his neighbors alive. His birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, &c., were no different from yesterday or next Thursday or two weeks ago…
Such environs could easily (and do frequently) break the spirits of lesser men. But Tony fought with tenacity unparalleled. He was eventually able to get himself out of the hospital and achieve public locomotion — slow but sure — with a cane and quiet, dogged perseverance. Subways included…
One night, several months ago, he hauled his bad self down to the World Financial Center to see a Vernon Reid multimedia performance with me. We spoke of the things that he was going to do, once he got “better” — within whatever parameters of improvement he could actually hope to achieve. Work plans, educational plans, social plans… all of which would take flight in the weeks/months/years to come. Sadly, it is Tony and not his plans that has taken flight.
I have very strong mixed feelings about Tony’s death. He lost his life yesterday but, in many ways, he really lost his life in the summer of ‘08. He has been deprived of a future, and all of the thrilling possibilities that a future can entail… but he has been spared an arduous life guaranteed to be filled with physical restrictions, social/professional struggles and necessarily compromised expectations.
He lives no more but he grieves no more, feels anguish no more and suffers the terror of future surgeries no more… and he will never have to spend another moment in another hospital.
His friends and his family — I’m glad to have met his wonderful sisters and niece in recent months — will continue to carry the burden of his loss and the dreadful story that led to it… but Tony himself is now free and unfettered… and shall be so forever more.
He never lost his sense of humor, even as it began to hew more closely to the gallows end of the spectrum. I was delighted when he pointed out the irony of his checking in for open heart surgery in a hospital located in Valhalla (albeit the one in Westchester County). I’m glad that he picked up on that, ‘cause I wasn’t going to mention it otherwise…
He was also very good at mastering the series of exhortations/exercises we devised to improve the fine motor skills in his right hand: “Dio” (metal horns) . . . “Fox News” (middle finger raised) . . . “Dio” (metal horns) . . . “Rush Limbaugh” (middle finger raised) . . . “Dio” (metal horns) . . . “Pat Robertson” (middle finger raised) . . . [repeat as necessary] . . .
Some people leave their mark on the world by building huge skyscrapers, or by unifying (or destroying) great nations, or by writing one of those awful auto-tuned songs that are okay to dance to and everyone seems to like so it gets played on the radio all the time until it gets unseated by the next awful auto-tuned song…..
Tony had his life taken away from him — and then, ultimately, extinguished — before he had a chance to create that kind of legacy. But he left a substantial and indelible mark of his own through the shining example of how he carried himself in the face of constant, life-threatening, adversity.
Throughout his ordeal, Tony was a pillar of strength, seeking no sympathy from others, attacking his physical limitations with slow, saddened perseverance. Despite each slowing of improvement, each complication, each return to the hospital, he always maintained an air of dignity and stoic grace, coupling resignation with determination. And he fought, tirelessly, right up until the very end. May we all be so brave when our times come. He was truly inspiring, and I will always treasure the time that I and others from the “Bx. Sci.” crew got to spend with him.
Death may have won the decisive battle — it always does — but it didn’t have nearly as easy a time besting this particular conquest as it presumably expected. Looking back over the last two years, the bottom line — the unassailable truth — is that Tony kicked Death’s ass far more often than the other way ‘round.
He fought like a warrior, and he died like a %@$#! hero, earning a much-deserved position of glory in the halls of the real Valhalla.
You ruled, Tony. And you rule. I miss you, man. Like the Bad Brains sang, “Sail on, sail on…”