Saturday, July 5, 2008

Following up on Chris Sakey's death ...

The Concord Monitor's Ray Duckler did a pretty good job of following up on the death of punk musician Chris Sakey earlier this week: ["His friends will remember his music"]. I'm quoted in the article, along with some of Chris' other friends and former bandmates. Duckler does a really good job to not glorify some of the more difficult times of Sakey's life. Nice job indeed.

UPDATE: The link is broken, here is the full text of the story:

His friends will remember his music - Man killed himself last week in city

Concord Monitor (NH) - July 3, 2008Browse Issues
Chris Sakey loved to rock. What those hardboiled chords, born out of the Seacoast's punk scene in the 1980s, did for his troubled mind is anyone's guess.

What is known is that the 42-year-old Sakey, who jumped to his death from his balcony Friday in an apparent suicide, continued to play his guitar.

Perhaps it provided stability. Maybe it added balance to a man searching for serenity. Maybe it calmed a temper that was always dangerously close to the surface. Sakey was once charged with attempted murder and assault, charges that were dropped 10 years ago because he was deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Whatever role music played in his life, Sakey and his guitar were brothers, according to friends and neighbors at the John F. Kennedy Building, a low-income housing facility for seniors, disabled people and individuals with mental illness. It was Sakey's final home after an arduous ride.

His friends described him as a loner but also generous, creative and loyal. And he loved to play that guitar.

Sakey sometimes sat downtown, in front of the Capitol Craftsman jewelry store, sporting a spider web tattoo across his

shaved head during the latter stages of his life. He'd have his jug of coffee, his hand-rolled cigarettes, his backpack and his guitar.

"I used to joke with him," said 58-year-old John Mikolyski of Concord, who befriended Sakey 10 years ago at New Hampshire Hospital. "I used to say, 'I have to stop hanging out with you. They're going to think I'm a freaking nut.' And he'd say, 'That's the way it is.' "

Sakey was a rocker, wailing on his electric guitar as a teen in Portsmouth. He attended Van Halen and J. Geils Band concerts. He moved with a group that went against the current, musically and socially.

He and old buddy Jim Hildreth formed The Nixon's Sweethearts, billed as southern Maine's first punk band. That's what Hildreth claimed in an e-mail, sent from New York City, where he now works for a consulting company. The two also jammed in another band, Insanicide.

They weren't the Stones as far as popularity, but their edgy sound created an underground buzz that they believed served a purpose.

"Chris was great to work with," Hildreth wrote. "I would write lyrics, usually with a melody in my head. I could hum the melody, and Chris would just start playing it. This is a skill few people have, and I didn't realize how special it was."

Tony Schinella of Concord, a blogger and newspaper editor for a Massachusetts weekly, also played with Sakey and Hildreth during those years.

"He was a good guitar player," Schinella said. "He knew his scales. He could play very well. We had a bass and three guitars. It was a cacophony of sound."

Later in the 1980s, Sakey dated Dover's Lisa Carver, who became an artistic, rebellious and humorous voice for the punk movement. Angry, sexy and provocative, she shares her thoughts in music and writing. She's written for Playboy and appeared on MTV.

She mentions Sakey briefly in her book Drugs Are Nice: A Post-Punk Memoir, released in 2005.

In 1997, Sakey spent two months in the state hospital for an undisclosed reason, according to state prison spokesman Jeff Lyons.

Then he was readmitted a year later, after a psychological evaluation concluded that he was incompetent to stand trial on attempted murder and assault charges. Sakey had allegedly attacked the co-owner of the Elvis Room, a Portsmouth coffeehouse. The charges were dropped, and Sakey spent more than four years in the state hospital.

That's where he met Mikolyski, who spent 25 years in the state prison and state hospital. He was released in 2005. The two remained friends, through Sakey's time at the Fellowship House, a transitional housing program, and the Kennedy Building, where Sakey moved just two months ago.

"He finally got a small studio that he was proud of," Mikolyski said. "He showed me the little kitchen and the bathroom."

While last Friday's awful scene suggested Sakey was deeply troubled, Mikolyski speculated that the event wasn't as it appeared. He says Sakey's leap from the eighth floor was a knee-jerk reaction.

"He was worried about the bill collectors, but he wasn't suicidal," Mikolyski said. "He wasn't a depressed type of person. He was impulsive and compulsive. I don't think he had suicide on his mind."

Perhaps not. But Sakey needed help. Officials at Riverbend, a community mental health center where Sakey sought treatment the past few years, couldn't open his file, citing confidentiality.

Meanwhile, Schinella envisioned what might have been.

"Who knows what could have happened differently had he received the help he needed at an early age?" Schinella said. "Maybe he did and he ignored it, but in these cases, something gets lost along the way. Something simple."

Like a chord, strummed on an old guitar.

Ray Duckler can be reached at

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