I know what it feels like when someone close to you commits suicide. Over the years, I have had several close friends and numerous acquaintances take their lives. My uncle jumped in front of a train in NYC when I was a teenager, although I didn’t find out that was how he died until I was older. But in all of these cases, the suicides were a shock
I can’t begin to fathom what drives a person to take their own life, except they felt that terminating their life was the best option open to them. The news of the suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain breaks my heart, and once again, I ask myself, why did suicide seem like the best option?
We don’t know what was going on in either of their personal lives. All we know is that Kate was very wealthy, famous for creating one of the most iconic brands of the nineties. Based on the interview she gave on one of my favorite podcasts, How I Built This With Guy Raz, after selling her well-known handbag brand, she was enjoying time with her family. She and her husband of thirty-plus years had also recently launched a new business, Frances Valentine, making shoes and handbags.
In the interview, she is happy and quirky and bubbly, and so open about the process of creating her brand. I remember when I bought my first (and only) Kate Spade handbag in the late nineties. I had finally started making some decent money with a stable job and one of my goals was to own one of the beautiful, vintage-inspired handbags she was becoming known for. I felt rich and decadent and so lucky to own such a beautiful piece. I had always loved wearing vintage clothing that I discovered at thrift stores, but this was different. It was new but still looked vintage. I was smitten. She was 55 when she died, just a year older than I am.
Anthony Bourdain was working, recording, and traveling, apparently leading a very busy fulfilling life. According to CNN, he was in France working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning TV show Parts Unknown. Over the years, I have watched his travel shows on The Travel Channel, and have always been struck at how real, authentic and totally honest he was. His matter of fact style of communication, his intrinsic love of the unique, off the beaten path places, foods and drinks always left me feeling inspired as a writer and creator. He made me feel fearless when communicating about things I was passionate about. He was a punk rock fan who, according to Marky Ramone, dug the Ramones and never missed a chance to see them and support them during his work and travels. He loved the same music I did, The Heartbreakers, The Stooges, and the Dolls. Being vocal about the many demons he faced over the years, drugs and alcohol abuse among them, it leaves me deeply saddened to learn of his apparent suicide, and again, the question of why. He was only 61 when he died.
Over the years as I’ve struggled with running my business, I’ve often felt on the brink of disaster and isolation. After the financial crisis of 2008, when I faced losing everything I had loved and worked for, the thought of suicide floated briefly through my head gently, like a beautiful butterfly drifting on the breezes, calling to me as a way out of my troubles. But just as quickly, I swatted the thought away, feeling guilt and shame and remorse in the pit of my stomach for thinking such a thing. The thought of how my family and friends would feel has always kept me from taking such rash action. Instead, I turned to spirituality and a deep inner searching of my soul to discover how to get out of the depression and fear I had tumbled into, like falling off the edge of a deep chasm with nothing to grab onto. It’s a horrible feeling, and one I know many of you have grappled with.
Running a business is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Not knowing what either Kate or Anthony was going through in their personal lives, it is hard to postulate what went through their heads as they contemplated such an act. Was it their businesses, their busy life style, their celebrity status?
It’s easy to think that celebrities have nothing to worry about. After all, they have money, they’re famous, and have an endless stream of opportunities laid before them. But for some people, fame can be isolating, frustrating and draining. The toll fame takes on one’s personal life is unimaginable unless you’ve been there. I briefly experienced “fame” when The Hives blew up back in 2002. People were coming out of the woodwork asking for favors, asking me to sign their bands, get them on the guest list for an upcoming show, etc. It was complete madness and I didn’t navigate it very well, wishing it was over, and before you know it, it was and Gearhead faded into the background again.
My heart goes out to Kate and Anthony’s families, friends, loved ones and colleagues. Everyone is posting the Suicide Prevention Hotline number at the end of his or her blogs and news reports. I have no doubt that will help some people, but I also know, sometimes there is nothing you can do. Often, you are just blind-sided and never had a clue something was going on with the person. Try to be the best friend, lover or partner you can. Never miss the opportunity to tell those you love and admire how you feel. And if you ever suspect someone you care about is struggling, as hard as it is to bring it up, ask him or her what’s up. You might help him or her see another way out.
If you are considering suicide as a way out of your troubles, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
It was a cold wet winter day and I was feeling a little down. Not depressed, just not real motivated. Then I got the call from my boyfriend. He had just heard from a Facebook friend that Hellacopters guitarist Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist had died.
I couldn’t believe it. How could such a talented young man with so much ahead of him be dead? He was only 40, with plans for a new record and touring shaping this New Year. After confirming the truth of this rumor, I sat back and put on one of the two records I worked on with the band, High Visibility, and let my mind wander back to fifteen years ago first meeting Robert.
It’s pretty crazy when you’re working on a record. There are a lot of parts to manage, from the masters to the artwork. Usually there are one or two band members who one works with closely to get all the details sorted out and the record finished. Since I was working out most of these details while the band was in Sweden, I mostly communicated with their manager Patrick and drummer Robert via phone and email.
When the band arrived in town April 2002 to start their US tour promoting High Visibility, I was a little tongue-tied. I’d seen the band play once before, I think it was 1998, but had never officially met them or spent time with them prior to putting out the record. I was always one of those shy types, never feeling comfortable enough to talk to the bands I admired from a distance. They were cool for goodness sake, and I was just a geek who dug their music. I had to get over that for this tour though because I was handling all the distribution, sales and merch for the band and the tour, not to mention the production of their record. Talking to them and getting to know because I was the head of their record label was a must.
Much as myself, Strings was also shy, reserved and quiet. He hung in the background mostly talking in Swedish with his band mates. We chatted a little but I was never able to overcome my own shyness to really open up with him, and consequently, never really got to know him like I did Kenny, Robert or Nicke.
But that reserve disappeared when Strings got on stage. If I had super x ray vision, I would swear there were lightning bolts sparking off his fingertips when he played. He was focused and technically superior, but rocked with a passion and love that could color the notes flying out of his guitar with a fury and aggression that pushed the band to play harder and faster.
It strikes me as somewhat prescient that the band all have wings barely visible sprouting from their backs on the cover of High Visibility. I don’t know whose idea this was.
When they played they were in synch with a higher power, channeling passion and love and companionship through their music. Strings added a touch of American muscle to the band and on that recording, taking their sound into a more 70s classic rock approach, channeling the bands he loved like Kiss, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones into his playing and making their world his own.
I don’t know what happened to him. After the Hellacopters moved on to a new label, I had no further reason to be in touch constantly.
He was such a beautiful passionate young man in his prime, giving the world his love through his music.
My heart hangs heavy, my soul weeps for the loss of this brilliant child of the universe. I know his former band mates and the people who loved him are struggling to put their pain into context. For me, I celebrate the brief time we connected by listening to the records, sifting through the posters and sharing the few pictures I still have. I wish him Godspeed on this journey to the afterlife. Those airbrushed wings from the record cover are now real. I’m certain he is connecting with the rock and roll greats who left this earth before him, rocking the heavens with his glorious sounds.
Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist 4/16/76 – 2/3/17