by Tim Gilmore, 12/31/2018
You’re not supposed to die from congestive heart failure three days shy of your 39th birthday. Things can’t be what they seem. There’s a gardenia blooming full-on, opalescent petals bubbled with crystal clear raindrops, smelling like heaven would, here in this back booth tonight at Rain Dogs in Five Points. What seems cannot be.
After all, didn’t I first meet Kyle at Van’s Package House Liquors here in 1951? Didn’t we first meet, right here, at Five Points Barber Shop in 1931? Will he really not talk music and spirits again?
Right now, F. Kyle Marshall, DJ Chef Rocc, should be sitting across from Ian Ranne at Rain Dogs. “He should be right there,” Ian says, “holding down his barstool. The regular spot. It would just be a normal day.”
But it’s not. The polished counter and the beer taps bend inward, like they’re looking themselves in a convex mirror. All straight lines curve in. Because there’s gravity. There’s a powerful absence here at 1045 Park Street. Kyle’s was a big presence.
Ian worked a corporate DJ gig for a Christmas party downtown at the Jesse Ball DuPont Center this afternoon, his station set up under the open stairs. His hair’s grown longer, a little gray. Kyle, his DJ partner in Big Buck$ Crew, would’ve been by his side all day.
“I would’ve woke him up at 11,” Ian says. “He would’ve done this gig with me all day. We’d be having after-work beers right now.”
You shouldn’t die from congestive heart failure at 38 years old. I’ve been watching the way it should go. My father was 50 when I was born. He hardly has the breath to walk across the room. If he makes it to February, he’ll be 95.
On September 2nd, Kyle posted a sideways selfie on Facebook. He sat in a hospital bed, nebulizer in his mouth, and wrote, “Congestive heart failure, dude. My fast lifestyle has caught up to me.”
I remember Kyle patting my shoulder that night Rain Dogs cut me off. I was cognizant enough to be embarrassed. His big comforting face swept into my line of sight. We said several things. I’ll never know what they were. But I remember Randolph in Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms saying the greatest human need is to be held and told that “everything is going to be all right.” That’s how I remember Kyle that night.
In his beautiful memorial cover story, printed on Thanksgiving, Folio Weekly veteran Shelton Hull wrote, “He had been on life support for several hours after collapsing over the weekend. The machines that kept him alive as his organs slowly gave out were finally disconnected around 6:30 p.m. But he was a fighter, and he held on until about a quarter past seven. Meanwhile, an extended online vigil grew increasingly grim until the bad news filtered through that evening. Then the floodgates opened.”
At the moment Kyle died, Erik Fortes left his in-laws’ house in Mandarin, turning from Percheron onto Losco Road when “two overlapping transmissions cut in and out of each other” on the car radio. Quickly realizing something was off, or on, he recorded it on his phone. It’s 49 seconds of the English rock band New Order’s “Ceremony” and a man’s voice saying life and death are only details, the two details that are certain, that death might happen when the children are older, but either way, it’s coming.
Erik calls Kyle “someone who kept everybody safe, this giant black dude that loved punk rock and NASCAR and Wu Tang in equal measure.” Kyle bore a tat of NASCAR’s “King,” Richard Petty, and Kyle and Ian supported Wu Tang Clan in St. Augustine a month before the end.
Because “there are more things in heaven and earth” than we can dream in our philosophy. There’s a sentry plant, a century plant, agave americana, blooming heart and soul, through and through, soup to nuts, 28 feet tall, great big golden, right here at the bar tonight. If you cut the flower stalk before it blooms, “honey water” pools in the empty heart. Because the brain differs from God only “as syllable from sound.”
“Hey, Kyle,” I’d ask him if he were here where he should be, and I’d thumb over my shoulder toward agave amer. and say, “That guy even old enough to drink?” The century plant blooms just once, right at the end of its long life. It flowers magnificently and dies.
The floodgates that opened in Shelton’s cover story allowed, in the words of that opening paragraph, “the most explosive outpouring of collective grief that the city of Jacksonville has perhaps seen.” When Kyle’s heart blew out, it knocked a hole in the heart of the city.
What happens to a city when it grieves? I remember the mourning for the Southern Bukowski, Alan Justiss, dead on Valentine’s Day, 2011, for Maddie Clifton, the eight year old girl murdered by a 14 year old boy from across the street, who stuffed her under his waterbed in 1998, the crying of the Sharkettes, the tiara-wearing cheerleaders for the Jacksonville Sharks football team when the announcement that President Richard Nixon had resigned from office played through loudspeakers across the Gator Bowl in 1974. Surely Kyle joined his ghost to the Collective Unconscious of this city.
Kyle greeted me with a hearty hug when I hung that poster for JaxbyJax Literary Arts Festival in a front window at Rain Dogs six years ago. We shared a couple beers. He told me about his grandmother, how she was doing, which wasn’t well, how much he loved her. He told me how the indefinable band, Bad Brains, brought everything together. Rasta. Human rights. Jazz rock. I told him I’d lend him an old Mahavishnu Orchestra record, even wrote it on my hand, but goddamn, I never did.
Ian remembers first meeting Kyle, maybe ’99 or 2000, at another DJ’s house, Dialectable Beats, now weekend DJ at Birdies Five Points. Ian loved Kyle instantly. “It was rare you saw a black dude new to the scene into skateboarding and underground hip hop,” he says. Kyle’s hair was dyed orange. He made Ian laugh, from the heart, from the gut. “We freestyle rapped ’til the sun came up. He never left my side after that.”
At the moment Kyle died, Erik heard New Order’s 1981 song, its jangly guitar, its shadowy lyrics, “This is why events unnerve me. / They find it all, a different story,” and man’s voice speaking, saying, “Sorrow over the loss of someone.”
An artist who’s habituated Five Points bars through the 20-tens, the 1990s, the 1970s, Fire Stoker sits in a stackable chair on the sidewalk before Rain Dogs, her gray hair cascading across her shoulders, sips a tall local beer, and calls Kyle “a lover of fat white girls and music of every genre. He was tangled up in lots of complex things. He ran his heart straight out.” Kyle liked Colt 45 and Lord Calvert whiskey and Bombay Sapphire gin and “this ill bottle of single malt scotch. 60.4% by vol.”
Somebody else remembers talking Beat writers with “Rareski” and digging “the first Murs & 9th Wonder joint,” after all “True poetry. We do it how it’s supposed to be. / ’Cause right before I write it, I imagine you quotin’ me.”
Fire Stoker first met Kyle in 2011 at Burro Bar downtown, sole person shown up for hip hop artists Ceschi (Chess-Key) and Louis Logic. Kyle DJ’d in a corner beneath paper lanterns, played Portishead and, when he spotted Stoker knitting in a back corner, bought her a beer. When the headliner played Nas’s song “The World Is Ours,” they all sang along.
And didn’t I first meet Kyle at 1045 Park Street before this address was Rain Dogs, at Spillers Gallery, across the street from Corky Bell’s Seafood in 1991, at Spillers across from Stand ’N Snack in 1981, at Spillers next door to Goode’s Bakery in 1971, at Arcade Men’s Shop clothiers and Goode’s beside Bruce’s Liquor Store and across from Five Points Cocktail Lounge in 1961, at Goode’s Bakery beside Five Points Tavern and across from Van’s Package House Liquors in 1951, at Goode’s Bakery in 1941, at Five Points Barber Shop in 1931? I must’ve. Kyle’s an archetype, spirit of Five Points.
It’s too easy to too suddenly mythologize Kyle, because his life is bigger than its moment, but all life, ever, has is its moment, though every moment spreads out to nothing in time. Each of us is bigger than our moment. Our each and every moment is bigger than eternity. Our eternal moment begins and ends before what we think of as time begins to notice. And that’s all. Goddamn. If you’ve got an angle, an angle on a moment, love your instant, don’t ever forget it, become it.
Shelton delineates how Frances Kyle Newton came into the world “an Air Force brat” in Langley, Virginia, metonym for the Central Intelligence Agency, on November 15, 1979. He told Traci, the love of his life, how he felt on his 21st birthday. They married in 2004. They named their son, Beckham Henry, for their two favorite soccer stars in 2008 and five years later came a daughter named Olivia.
I told Kyle 10 years ago I’d planted a Scandinavian fig right here in Florida. I’d asked him weren’t it foolish I wish’d it to grow. He said no. The best fuel and nutrient was to love a thing you’d wished against all odds to be. We both knew, wished against odds, he meant us both. We laughed about the fact that a “gastropub” had opened in the newest suburban development, St. Johns Town Center, and called itself “Blackfinn.” Wasn’t it funny how a restaurant in a suburban shopping mall, whose business model sought to drain support from the historic and cultural and urban core, the real “town center,” called itself “black” and “Finnish”? Then Blackfinn went bankrupt and closed. Then Kyle died. Then the urban core held multiple benefit shows, Legends Never Die at Rain Dogs and the private memorial at Five Points’ Black Sheep Restaurant. The fig, which I’d thought a dead stick for five years, irresponsibly neglecting to sever the stalk from the root, has, since Kyle was diagnosed, finally borne its sweet and sour black fruit. It’s a black Finn. I’ve eaten the dozen.
The beloved Jax drag queen Bebe Deluxe says F. Kyle Marshall personifies Jacksonville. Because the city’s organic. It beats with a deeper heart than the Chamber of Commerce measures. Citizens’ boards measure Jax and chart its business stats, but the animal that is the true city drops beats in its own central organ, offshoots hearts when and where it needs, and elects its archetypes in a shadow government where Bebe’s Kyle replaces Andrew Jackson on a hobbyhorse.
An inner circle knew Kyle had been sentenced. He wasn’t private about it. Near the end of October, he posted a blurry image of a bottle of Bombay dry gin, and said, “Can’t keep my mind from,” then dropped an emoji of a race car. “Fuck it,” he wrote. “The universe has condemned me to everlasting sorrow. Salud.”
Ian says, “Kyle was not a healthy dude at all. He weighed more than 300 pounds the whole time I knew him.” My father, 167 pounds, 6’2”, moved from stage two to stage four, Congestive Heart Failure, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, though all he eats every day is an egg and a bagel, stepping daily toward 95 years. I’m sure I don’t want to live that long (and pretty sure I won’t). Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and medical ethicist, says his own right age to die is 75.
To Dylan Thomas’s villanelle about his father, imploring him, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” I say, “Make peace. Go gentle. Become everything else. Disperse yourself into the dripping fog this one a.m. Be tranquil.” Is it not hypocritical of Thomas then to drink himself to death?
Fire Stoker says, “Kyle ran sound when I sang at Rain Dogs. He ran sound when I read a poem at Night Hawks about a professor I know.”
F.S.: And on Halloween, 2016, I stood next to him at the DJ booth, dancing, wearing a low-cut black shirt showing cleavage, shaking my ass in a Bernie Sanders mask.
“He’d already beaten cancer once,” Ian says. “He got diagnosed with heart failure and didn’t change his lifestyle. He liked to drink and smoke and have a good time and we did that a lot together.” Ian pauses. His hair falls before his face. His nose is as long as mine; I’d never noticed.
“Fuck,” he says. “These were the best times of my life.”