I've been lucky to see Graydon James and the Young Novelists play numerous times here in Toronto. The first time I heard their song Left Behind, I kinda lost it. Anything related to suicide often has a deep impact on me, and the emotion in this song was no exception. The next time I saw the band play, they opened the set with the song and I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. Following that reaction, I felt compelled to talk to Graydon about his inspiration for writing the song. I appreciate that he was willing to share this song's story for Life is Sweet month.
Lisa told me about John's suicide, shortly after New Year's Eve a couple of years ago. I didn't know John very well -- I had been at his wedding with Lisa, mainly because she needed a ride and I like to dance at weddings. His suicide was a shock to both of us, but the main thing that I understood, as Lisa told me the story, were the gamut of emotions that she felt at John's passing. Sadness, of course, but also frustration that she hadn't seen it coming. And anger that John had given up, especially without truly discussing it with any of his friends.
I was transfixed by the idea that these huge, bewildering, and sometimes conflicting emotions among all of John's friends were the collateral damage from one person's decision to commit suicide. When I wrote "Left Behind" I tried to capture and convey all of those emotions, although any one of them is too much to really fit into a single song. I hadn't thought of suicide in terms of the life-changing event that it would be for all those who knew the person. It reminds me of the impact, often unknown or unforeseen, that we have on others.
John died alone, in his basement apartment bedroom, after blocking the door with towels and opening the valve on a helium canister. He went to sleep and he didn't wake up. I have no idea if it was a peaceful death or not, although it seems that John took pains to make it peaceful. The next morning his best friend got a priority delivery by courier. It was a note, written by John, explaining that he had committed suicide and that he would need his friend to make all the necessary arrangements for the disposition of his body and assets. I can only barely imagine what it would be like to get that note, or to be in John's position, with all the careful planning that it entailed.
It's hard enough thinking about the hardship, emotional turmoil, and personal pain that goes into the decision to commit suicide. If people could be reminded, somehow, that their actions will have ramifications for everyone they know, hopefully it would make them think twice. Or reach out and talk to someone, and realize that they have something that is worth living for: people who care about them.
Left Behind was included on Graydon James and the Young Novelists' third album, in the year you were born.