In Memory of Spencer Bell

The words are brought to life by a melodic male voice. It’s a young voice, yet mature, untrained yet confident. Carried into my headphones from cyberspace, riding on the backs of little ones and zero’s, the owner of this voice is immortalized.

“Life is a one-way dirt road, there’s only one way to go, and you know its straight,straight to the end. It’s a long road, a dusty road, a dirty road. ‘takes a lot of turns, gotta lot of pot holes, a lot of bends. And the only thing the map says about this road is that it ends.”

His name is Spencer Bell. His song is now a dusty, digital imprint on our collective consciousness, bound to replay its soulful, haunting tune the same way, every time, until the end. Maybe someday they’ll find it, locked deep inside the binary code: pure musical passion in its mathematical form. A multi-million-dollar discovery waiting to be found and acquired by Sony. A preset on your new Korg Keyboard that reads “pure passion.” The song is finished, before it even begins. Everyone can go home and re-live the artificial moment ad nauseum.

“Straight to the end.” That lyric snaps into my head like elastic whenever I think about the future. Straight__ To__ The__ End. I like how those words fit together. One syllable, after another, in rapid succession, with unmistakable direction. When in doubt: go straight. For how long? Until the end. You don’t even have to start from the beginning to know where you’re headed. Perhaps life as a whole can be approached this way. Like a puzzle picture you’ve already seen completed. The end result is obvious, the picture is printed on the box. Every piece of the puzzle is a mystery that comes and goes, confusing or exceedingly simple. The deal is explicit though. Once the puzzle is finished, you can step back and marvel at it, but then you have to let it go. Let it fall to pieces.

I was told once that if you want to tell a lie, write history. If you want to tell the truth, write fiction. Fiction begins and ends in the author’s imagination. The universe is whatever size and shape you say it is. Whereas, history is the story of everything that ever was. You couldn’t possibly produce enough accurate facts to keep the story straight. (To the end?)

A kind of fiction begins to germinate in my brain when I’m told that the singer from the band Sheer Funk and Misery, Spencer Bell, died in his sleep. It’s important to know that I never met Spencer, at least not formally. If I try hard enough I can see his face as he passes me in the halls of our high school. His life exists on the outskirts of my reality. The only thing that keeps me thinking of his death is a cd put in my hands by a woman working the desk of the pre-school where I volunteered once.

“Just listen to this stuff, this kid had infinite potential.” She says to me. The words “infinite potential” set off a trigger inside me. I listen to the music in the parking lot—I mean really listen. There was undeniable talent in Spencer. Once I gave voice to that thought, my imagination was set loose chasing all sorts of potential futures. Perhaps that’s how I came to hold this version of Spenser’s death so vividly in my mind:

He is climbing the stairs of a dilapidated apartment building somewhere in Brooklyn.

His face is a mask of contemplation as he jiggles his key, attempting to find a purchase in a slightly defective lock. As he enters the place he’s been calling home for the last two years, he passes his acoustic guitar, laid across the couch, recently played. Brand new strings across its well-worn fret-board. It’s dark outside. If you could see stars from the city, they would have been arrayed in full force. The apartment is perfectly still, and silent. Only the near constant sound of traffic is present. Perhaps the shadow of a smile crept in, as he scribbled some lyrical paradox, or a metaphor rife with double meanings. Another long day in the city comes to a close. A future brimming with possibilities. Just one more time strumming on those bright, brilliant new strings. One more crescendo before unceremoniously stripping down and rolling into bed. One last thought before resting his head on that pillow. One last puzzle piece locking in place before closing his eyes for good.


For some reason, I allowed this fiction to go unquestioned for years. I can’t even recall who gave me the news. Recently, I looked into the official story. He was diagnosed with adrenal Cancer. He had moved back to Michigan months before the events that led to the discovery of his cancer. He spent eleven days in a hospital bed before passing away peacefully, in his sleep. My reality grew from the very last bit of Spencer’s story.

Truth, is a deadly poison if you swallow it with enough alcohol. Guilt is a useless emotion. I keep listening to the songs off this homemade cd. Scanning for something that will validate my fictional idea of what Spencer was like. It’s in the Lyrics. I’m convinced I’ll find the answer in the lyrics. Something about the delivery of it all. You can tell, in this moment made permanent, this guy is alive. Lucid. Aware of his impermanence.

Spencer spends twenty years growing. Twenty years building towards that infinite potential. He knows where he’s going. Where we’re all going for that matter.  He’s seen the cover of the box. The picture is clear, but his version of the puzzle doesn’t match up. All of a sudden, a hidden clock strikes midnight. His time is up.  He hurriedly slides a few oddly shaped pieces in place. Its unsatisfying. There are so many holes. So many things left behind, half complete. So much of the picture is left unfinished.


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