Sometime early Monday morning, my old friend and collaborator Tommy Marth committed suicide.
What a prick.
And Tommy was a prick, make no mistake. It was his chief public characteristic. He was cynical, sarcastic, caustic as industrial solvent. The day he met my wife Rosalie, he walked up and said “So this is the stupid bitch who’s marrying you?” He was kidding, but one of Tommy’s greatest talents was the maintenance at all times of an absolute poker face.
I say one of his talents, because Tommy had quite a number of them. Like every member of his family, he was a gifted musician — in Tommy’s case, it was the saxophone. He was most known, in fact, for being the studio and live saxophonist for Las Vegas’s biggest music act, The Killers, playing on their records Sam’s Town and Day And Age. But he also played with a lot of less-known local acts like Black Camaro, Ryan Pardey’s up-and-coming Halloween Town…and me.
Tommy was possessed of one of the fiercest, most unrelenting minds I’ve ever encountered. It would be a mistake to say that Tommy didn’t suffer fools gladly; in point of fact, he didn’t suffer them at all. He had no patience with stupid people or the mentally lazy, and he didn’t bother to hide his contempt, which also contributed to his reputation as a gigantic raging asshole.
I met Tommy, I think, sometime in 2000 or possibly 1999, at Cafe Espresso Roma, where I met so many of the people who’ve become my good friends and family. Back then, Tommy was still modeling and accompanying casino club DJs on saxophone. My first impression was: prick. And he really was. Why not? He was a male model who literally had to fight off starlets like Tara Reid, who once walked up to him when he was playing at a club and stuck her tongue down his throat. He had no reason to be humble.
But then, slowly, I got to know him, and I discovered that underneath his abrasive exterior was a thoughtful, restless autodidact who was fiercely loyal and devoted to his friends and protective of his family. Tommy and I were very similar in many ways: avowed atheists, obsessive music lovers and makers (though Tommy was far more talented in this direction than I will ever be), voracious readers; deep romantics masquerading as dismissive cynics. Tommy sneered at the world because it consistently failed to live up to his expectations of what it could be.
For a few years there, we were close. I moved in with Tommy’s brother, Ryan, and Tommy and I would sit for hours and hours in Ryan’s condo, filled with instruments and recording gear and the detritus of a thousand electronic experiments, and watch movies or play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City endlessly, disregarding the built-in missions in favor of simply raining chaos down on the cops and whores of Vice City, stealing tanks and using them to demolish entire neighborhoods of the city while “Fascination” by the Human League played endlessly on the in-game radio station. (On at least one occasion when we finished a marathon gaming session by heading to nearby all-night bar and restaurant Ichabod’s, I nearly had to physically restrain Tommy from ramming a cop car, pulling the cop out, beating him up, stealing his cruiser, and going on a mayhem-filled joyride. It was that kind of game.)
We never paid to get into nightclubs or bars; Tommy knew everybody. We would stand back and critique the decor of the place, the layout, the DJ’s music choices, the lighting. For Tommy, the glamorous Vegas nightclub wasn’t fun, it was a job. He was one of those people who float through the places other people are desperate to get into, shaking hands with the club owner, the promotions manager, the barback, the DJ. Tommy knew everybody.
If you knew Tommy, you may have heard him called “Perfect” Tommy. That was my nickname for him, taken from a character in Buckaroo Banzai. He was “Perfect” Tommy because he was perfect. He was a pretty man who often inspired naked lust in women who encountered him, until they tried playing flirty and ditzy with him and he sent them away with a dismissive remark. (His rebuff to a supermodel who was desperately trying to engage his attention: “Are you the president of the Ron Perlman Lookalike Club, or just a member?”) He was perfect because he could back his bullshit up, because he was always the coolest guy in the room, whether the room in question was our kitchen or the dancefloor du jour. I even made “I (Heart) Perfect Tommy” t-shirts with an online printshop; to our delight and confusion, I sold one to somebody on the far side of the world.
We were close, and then we weren’t. Tommy was increasingly involved with his music career, and he seemed to spend less time out and about, more time in the studio or just hanging out with Ryan and their sister Melissa. We were close, and then life happened, the way it often does, and instead of hanging out with Tommy every night, I’d see him once a month, then once every few months. He got busy; I got married and quit drinking, which obviated the only two reasons I ever really made the scene. We just weren’t moving in the same places anymore. But he was still my friend.
When he went on tour with the Killers, we sat around Facebook and giggled at the pictures he sent from far-flung places: Tommy riding a bicycle in Paris looking like some kind of sinister homosexual prostitute in his everpresent (and utterly hetero-challenged) v-neck t-shirt, Tommy at the Acropolis in Athens, Tommy surrounded by adoring groupies backstage at a London show. It was funny to imagine Perfect Tommy hanging out with the bright young things of 2000s indie rock, still sneering, still the coolest guy in the room. (He once spent an evening in the NYC apartment of Strokes lead singer Fab Moretti, discomfiting Moretti’s then-girlfriend Drew Barrymore by endlessly giggling at how much she resembled his sister Melissa.)
Then he came back, and seemed to resume the path he’d been carving for himself for years: working at the Revolution Lounge and the Royal House and the Beauty Bar, handling nightlife promotion or managing the bar, still recording and playing gigs with friends. Since November, he’d been working as nightlife promotions manager at the Hard Rock Casino.
I found out that last part, by the way, by reading his obituary in the Las Vegas Weekly. The last time I really talked to Tommy was at his brother Ryan’s birthday party last year. I’d seen a couple of times since then, for brief moments, at the Beat Coffeeshop or outside the Griffin or at the Royal House, but we’d barely done more than hug and promise to catch up.
Every so often the last few years I’d call him and text him and email him to come and have coffee or get food, and he simply wouldn’t respond. It hurt my feelings, slightly, but Tommy was Tommy. He’d been having other problems as well, which I won’t go into here, and I was worried about him. But whenever I’d see him, he always seemed to be doing well, to be happy — or as happy as Tommy would ever allow himself to appear to be — to be enjoying himself. He was busy, living the dream, or so I thought.
Until yesterday, when my friend Carey Kaplan came into the Coffee Bean, where I was sitting and working on my laptop. (Where I’m sitting and writing this now, in fact.) Her eyes were red.
“How ya doin?” I asked her. She started to sniffle. “Not good.”
“What’s the matter?” I asked. She just looked at me. “It’s bad,” she said.
“Is it something I need to know?”
“You’ll find out anyway.”
“Well, what the hell is it?”
And she told me, and I felt the ground drop away from under me.
Last night, a few of his people came by my house. We sat on my front lawn in my cheap plastic patio chairs and drank Jameson’s and listened to the Pogues and told stories about the silly, mean, amazing shit Tommy had pulled in his brief life.
His brother Ryan came over late. We laughed about what a dick move Tommy had pulled. In fact, Ryan and I agreed, we should hang a banner at the entrance to his funeral that just read DICK MOVE in giant letters. I pulled out an old promotional ad I’d made for my erstwhile music store Mperia.com, featuring Tommy and Ryan and our friend Alex and myself as a sort of retarded fake boy band. Ryan was the Sensitive One, Alex the Pretty One; I was the Odd One, the one member of every boy band who seems utterly out of place. Tommy was the Tough One, throwing shapes in a pair of wraparound sunglasses and a Kangol hat.
We talked about the surreality of receiving condolence messages via the social networks from Killers fans; I was unaware that, for some time, Tommy helped to manage the Killers’ official fan club. It surprised me because it seemed totally at odds with the Perfect Tommy I knew, but many of the fans who messaged me or replied to my posts told me how sweet he was with the Victims, as they were called. (I joked with Ryan and TJ Styles, bassist for Big Friendly and a close family friend, that when I started getting messages about how nice Tommy was to the Victims, my first thought was “They knew about the victims? I thought Tommy had hid them away better than that.”)
Some of our friends seemed horrified by the fan messages, but I thought they were kind and respectful, and I understand them, I think. Tommy meant something to these people as well. Not the same things he meant to us, but he was still someone who had touched them, either through his music or by simply being nice after a gig, and I was grateful for their sympathies.
I asked Ryan, as delicately as I could, how they were planning to handle the funerary arrangements, as he and the rest of Tommy’s family are Christians and Tommy was a vicious atheist. “We’re gonna do the most religious ceremony we can,” Ryan laughed. “Because fuck him.” I suggested we get a Catholic priest and a Mormon elder and a voodoo houngan and a faith healer, and then get Richard Dawkins to piss on Tommy’s grave. It made Ryan laugh, and I was grateful for that.
My heart is broken, not just because my great friend is dead, but because his massive dick move has also broken the hearts of his brother and sister, who are two of my favorite people on Earth, and whose sweetness and good-naturedness have always stood in marked contrast to Tommy’s cynicism. They do not deserve this, nor do his parents, nor do any of us who cared about him.
I don’t know why Tommy chose to do this stupid thing, or if it was even something he considered for more time than it took to do it. I’d always known that Tommy was wounded by a world that never lived up to his expectations, but I’d always assumed his colossal ego, arrogance and intelligence would keep him moving, because fuck the lot of you. And I’d always sort of looked forward to seeing old Tommy: old, mellowed out Tommy. He would be calmer, less cruel, less dismissive…but he would still have been the coolest cat in the room.
And now we’ll never find out.
So we’re going to bury Tommy soon, and the rest of us are going to go on. He will never get any older, mellow out; his perpetual growth of stubble will never go gray, his bald head will never stoop. He will exist only in the memories of those who loved him, and who will always miss him, and always be furious at this, his last dick move, and I miss him like hell already.
You hit it on the head, J-Lo; nailed it in one. Cheers!
I’m a Victim and I know I didn’t know Tommy at all personally but he brought joy to my life with his humor and I was always happy to see photos of him with The Killers. I’ll miss seeing him and I’m truly sorry for your loss.
Ah, you made me cry this morning, Josh. All of you back in Vegas are in my thoughts. The first time I hung out with Tommy he immediately tried to debate theology with me & we wound up commiserating about what assholes most Christians are & then contemplating the existence of altruism. Then we moved on from the Coffee Bean to the hipster bar du jour (Art Bar, if memory serves) where he dismissed the hottest girls in the room & stuck with his friends. Big Friendly was playing. Friends, family, loyalty won out. That’s why his most endearing quality was being an asshole. He wore it well.
Josh. Much love. I don’t know what to say. That was beautiful and perfect.
Well said, Josh – As always, proof your words are one of your best features
This was beautifully written. Miss ya Tommy.
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