Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Live Shit Binge and Purge: Memories of Matt

Nope Nah No Way
Matt Wood: Big guy, big heart

Indulge me for a moment.

Imagine receiving some unbelievable news. Think for a moment about how you might feel if one of your relatives won the jackpot on the lottery; or you were at the cash machine and (insert famous person's name) was next to you.

Or if you found out one of your friends was killed by debris from a helicopter crashing into a crane in central London, whilst on his way to work.

Kinda stops you in your tracks right? Typing that last sentence seems like a sentence from a work in fiction. Not something that happened to me last week.

People die every day. All day. All the time. Death in itself is difficult enough to deal with. (I wrote about it here) What makes this one particularly difficult is two other things:
1) the shock of finding out and
2) the chances of this happening. 

When my wife asked me (after hearing the 11 o'clock news) if Matt lived in Sutton, and was 39 I just said yes. I assumed it was another Matt who had died. 

But when I looked at his Facebook I was shocked. Matt, 39 from Sutton was at my house for my birthday when I turned 35. Matty Woodster: mad, metal loving, mentalist. Larger than life in every sense. Surely not. Nope nah no way.

But it was.

Disbelief Is The Only Word. Then Slow Realisation. 

I called my Sister but didn't get to speak to her. Then I called my Dad (by mistake as he has my Mum's phone) Then I called my Mum. Then I called my best friend. 

The conversation was the same: How could this happen? Of all the people. What are the chances? It's unbelievable.

My best friend and I could barely speak to each other. Something that has never happened through the twenty odd years we've known each other.

Tributes began rolling in on Facebook.

Disbelief is the only word. Then slow realisation.

Early the next morning I spoke to my Sister. She was more upset than me. It was the shock of finding out. 

I had desperately wanted to be the one to tell her. Instead, seeing the missed call from her brother without voicemails she'd called me back and got no answer. Seeing the missed call from her brother's best friend as well a little nervousness set in. Receiving a message "have you heard about Matt Wood?" she went on Facebook. And was unprepared for the news. 

My sister wasn't the only one who had attempted to contact Matt that day when she'd heard about what had happened in Vauxhall. Lots of his friends did. And when they didn't hear anything, it's easy to assume it's all ok.

Thursday morning was weird. Twitter discussions were happening too. Mutual friends were talking about music - which was a huge part of Matt's life. I wore my usual black suit but this time with black shirt and black tie: Back In Black. I wanted to listen to Slayer all day in tribute but my Reign In Blood CD for the car was hiding somewhere. Instead I had Dirt by Alice in Chains. I played it at high volume all the way to work. And screamed along.

And I cried.

You Only Realise The Impact Someone Has On Your Life Once They're Gone

Music was in Matt's DNA. Music was what brought so many of us together. As the opening chords of Them Bones kicked in as I drove to work, so did my sadness. I knew that so much of what I listened to was in some way going to trigger off thoughts.

Naturally, through the day my thoughts began to turn to my memories of Matt.

I remembered incidents, images and pieces of conversation:

Hot Rocks
I was always going into Hot Rocks on Sutton High Street to see what CDs were in there. It was the nexus for anyone into a certain kind of music in Sutton, Carshalton and perhaps further afield. And Matt was at the very centre. The shop was actually more about hanging out with Matt and fun conversation. As an awkward 18/19 year-old I'd stumbled onto a place that offered solace from the peer-pressure driven nonsense I was surrounded by before during and after I went to university. Matt was a kindred spirit and my sister and I knew it.

My uncle started getting all his blues CDs from Hot Rocks. I'll never forget Matt saying how my uncle was 'scary'.

Walking in and Matt saying 'listen to this' and he played me Bored by the Deftones. I remember being shocked by the combination of vocals and guitar. I was hooked. They're now one of my favourite bands. If it wasn't for many of us would not have discovered so many bands. He was a great facilitator - and it came from two things: how much he loved music and how much he loved his friends...of course he didn't choose anyone to be his friend - you had to earn that...or be on the receiving end of his brutal sledgehammer humour...

Led Zeppelin vs. Black Sabbath
At some point this silly discussion started between us. It was more for effect than anything. Both of us had honed a caustic wit. Matt's intelligence was seriously under-rated: his brain worked faster than most and he *always* had an answer for anything and everything (as do I and my Sister...we were a lethal tag team). I remember saying how much I liked Led Zep. Matt in his typically oppositional way said that he thought Black Sabbath were better...and so it went...whenever we of us would somehow weave into the conversation that we thought one was better...

Star Wars
I'm not sure when our mutual geekery became apparent but I guess with blokes of a certain age Star Wars indelibly part of our childhoods. Conversations were constantly peppered with references and quotations...He was a Sith to the outside world but Jedi on the inside!

My sister and I had a few parties over the years and without fail if Matt was in attendance, at some point he would monopolise the music. My Sister reminded me of a time he was playing a load of particularly heavy metal stuff. She walked in and found everyone all depressed and down. She just walked up to the CD player turned it off. Matt of course began to go into a rant but before he could get too carried away she'd put on Suspicious Minds by Elvis. Matt merely went quiet and nodded in appreciation!

Eclecticism, elitism... 
It's *far* too simplistic to think of Matt as a heavy metal fan. Yes his roots may be there but he was a true music fan. He appreciated Elvis, The Beatles and Machine Head; Metallica, Pantera and Frank Sinatra: utterly eclectic. All he really cared about was music's ability to move people. But he was *absolutely* right about his own opinions: completely elitist. Disagree with him at your peril if you couldn't hold your own! His DJing gave him the outlet he needed and was a huge influence on so many. Matt might have gone to be at one with the Force but you can absolutely guarantee he's educating about music.

...and eccentricity
Matt was without doubt one of the funniest people I've ever met. He had a wild and twisted sense of humour based around saying the things that no-one else would. His wit was razor sharp - but he was no slouch - he was equally at home speaking to a bunch of teenagers as he was my Mum and Dad. That's no mean feat! Going against the norm (even amongst the stubborn heavy metal fans) came perfectly naturally to him. Perhaps because he's had to deal with a lot in his life - he had a different perspective - but he walked to the beat of his own (double-bass) drum.

These are just a few thoughts. You may have more.

You only realise the impact someone has on your life once they're gone.

Ageing But Not Growing Up

Although our circles crossed less as we got older, Matt was one of those friendships that remained timeless. He had seen me change and alter so much from when I was a teenager.

His love of Chelsea and his cats was *fully* documented in the age of Facebook. I'm not a football or animals fan myself but Matt made sure they became inevitably associated with him.

Perhaps less obvious - behind the exterior of his 'metal attitude' - his family and nephew were parts of his life that were close to his heart. I think because he'd been through so much over the past few years he kept the things that truly meant a lot to him.

I *really* missed him at my Stag do and at my Wedding. I was more than a little frustrated at the time because I wanted him there! I spoke to him some time after and got a sense of just how difficult life was for him: health, relationships...that brief chat allowed me to let go of my frustration.

Whilst he didn't necessarily mellow, he had a deeper perspective and outlook. When he came round to my house for my 35th it was as if we were much younger again.

We'd aged but not grown up.

And we both appreciated Led Zeppelin *and* Black Sabbath!

Live Shit Binge And Purge

So all these things played through my mind on my way to work; in conversation with my Sister and my Friends and in conversation with one of my colleagues who met him. Telling other people and seeing the slowly unfolding looks of shock and horror on their faces brought home to me how surreal this whole thing has been.

I'm learning a few things about myself and others through trying to process this. Writing this post has been a kind of binge and purge (although most people reading this should get the Metallica reference) but it's made me think of some stuff:

We all deal with death differently
Some talk, some cry, some write some get angry.  Some people process it all internally, others communicate. Over the weekend I ate. It sounds stupid and almost rude but I very rarely drink alcohol - chocolate and food are my things. So I did some live shit and binge in homage. Comfort eating works for me.

I can choose the memories I want to keep
I'd like to remember Matt in a particular way. Yes memories will appear from nowhere - especially in conversation with my Sister and Friends - but I can still choose to honour Matt in a cool way. I can let go of the bad stuff keep hold of the good stuff.

We're all going to go some time...
It's sounds obvious but the whole dying in a helicopter crash thing made me uncomfortably aware of my own mortality. I mean - I drive to work every day - there's more chance of me dying in a car accident than being hit by a piece of flaming helicopter! I can appreciate what I have.

Perhaps the way we go reflects how we live our life
For Matt to go this way - in an extreme, over the top, media-filled way - it typifies how he lives life. No holds barred full on. I like to think he had his iPod on and was listening to some loud music when he departed: what a way to go. It made me think about how I live my life and how I might go. He's got a message for us all.

"A big guy with a big heart"

I heard his sister describe Matt as "a big guy with a big heart". I can't top that but I'd like to add something.

For me Matt was the embodiment of a proposition I first heard in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:
1) Be Excellent to Each Other and
2) Party on Dudes

Somewhere, Matt has attained a deep understanding of the great big cosmic joke.

For Those About To Rock, We Salute You.

May The Force Be With You.

(For more thought-provoking stuff have a look at my Daily Insight)