Originally published: June 13, 1995
If someone dies of cancer, their family might ask that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the American Cancer Society. If it's AIDS, the checks usually go to an AIDS-related charity. But where should the dollars of mourning go in the case of Pariah bassist Sims Ellison, who committed suicide June 6? This is something the Ellison family must think hard about, especially since Sunday night's tribute/benefit at the Back Room raised several thousand dollars.
There was talk going around the Back Room that the money might go to construct a plaque in Sims' name near the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Hopefully, this is just an idle rumor. Because Sims Ellison fell to the depths of introspection and took his life, it is not a decision that lends itself to physical monuments. Suicide is a mindbender that breeds confusion and emotional exploration, with the two big questions being "Why?'' and "How?'' Why did he do it? How could it have been prevented?
The thing that struck me most about the Ellison memorial show at the Back Room was not the angry poetry of Wammo or the bone-crushing sound of Seed, but the cross-section of the local music scene that attended. I saw people who play in blues bands and waitresses and club owners and soundmen and people who hadn't been to the Back Room in years. Hard rock bands usually inspire a circle tighter than their clothes and pretty much stay on the metal side of town, but Sims and the rest of Pariah were/are part of the entire music community. They weren't some robotic hair band, but rather, people you could identify with on a human level.
Sims was like so many of us, struggling to make a living from his art, and trying to stand tough as the train of disappointments whizzes by. You never like to hear about someone stepping in front of that raging locomotive, but you try real hard to understand when they do.
For some strange reason, suicide is often greeted with anger. There's that whole ``took the easy way out'' knock that I just can't get behind. There's nothing easy about putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. If it was easy a lot more people would do it.
I think that Sims' memory would be best served if, in some small way, he made it harder for someone else to fall into the swirl of darkness and desperation. It would be entirely appropriate, then, for the money raised to be used to start up a new musicians assistance program, which would provide free, confidential counseling for music biz-related problems. Let's say you've just been replaced on drums at the insistence of a producer or maybe you're depressed because your band won't do any of your songs live or maybe you don't get along with another member or maybe the temptations of drugs and alcohol are starting to overpower you; this proposed assistance program would try to resolve these and many more problems indigenous to the working musician.
Have you ever noticed how musicians laugh louder at Spinal Tap than the rest of us (not to mention the way they all cry when Nigel jumps back onstage to jam)? Musicians have their own language and probably even some secret handshake that us fans don't know about. And they take care of their own, when given the chance.
The staff at the Austin Rehearsal Complex, a working clubhouse to Pariah and so many other Austin bands, is handling the donations for the Ellison family, and they're the perfect party to set up a service thatwould make available therapists with an understanding of the complexities of being in a band. Of course, the logistics are for someone else to work out, but I think this program would show that we really care about the musicians who , and Sims was the spearhead, putting up fliers and developing the mailing list and fan club. Sims Ellison was driven by the rock 'n' roll dream, and those die hard, especially when they're so close to coming true.
There are good individuals in every corporation, but as a whole the major labels don't seem to care about anything but selling records. The heads of Geffen didn't think Kurt Cobain had a serious drug problem because he sold tons of records. And the powers that be at Geffen certainly didn't handle Pariah's heart of hearts with care. They just hit the puree button and poured them out.
At least that's the way it seemed when I called Geffen's publicity department the day it was announced that Sims Ellison had taken his life. I told the woman on the other line that I had some sad news, that a member of a band that had just been dropped by Geffen had committed suicide. The band was Pariah, and I needed her to send me the bio. "What's your faxnumber?'' she said, flatly.