Dedication to a Tortured Artist

My brother, Matt.

Today is the anniversary of my brother’s death.  Below is a piece I wrote about him one year after his passing. Before it though, I want to share something my Mom wrote today which I believe is incredibly beautiful.  It really makes me proud of her.  She’s a pretty great person.  Included is a piece of poetry/prose that my brother had written. Since this is a comedy website, I will share that Matt Long did comedy for a few years.  He started out doing open-mic’s with Issac Witty and John Evans in Tulsa.  He eventually ended up being the last long-time host at the Westward Ho before it closed.  People that Ho owner Chris Lindgren hired to do this job included Chad Daniels, Chad DuBrul, Shannon McLaughlin, Bret Alan, and Craig Allen, who are all really good comics.  Pretty amazing proving ground.  In some ways I miss my brother more each year, because it becomes more final that I will never talk to him again. Sad reality.

THIS IS WHAT MY MOM WROTE TODAY.

Thoughts of Matt on the anniversary of his dealth

Could there be a sadder day, could it rain a little harder, could the chill in the air dampen my bones a little more.   Death of a son is never sweet, but that anniversary today met with Easter and left a hollow place where colored eggs and green grass and a rebirth was meant to be.  Reading through Matt’s many poems and accounts of his disappointments and hardships caused me to realize that the story he had written titled “Plastic Man“ was an accounting of his own life.  I had briefly read these stories before, while Matt was in college and I was busy starting my life over once again with a new relationship and a demanding job.  I was so proud of his intelligence, college debating achievements and his personal interest in world government.

Now when I read his works I am amazed how he opened and poured out his heart and soul from a place I have never allowed myself to go.  What did I think I was reading all those years, why didn’t I see and understand that his world view formed and tortured him in a way that few of us bother to question, explore, let alone internalize.  Could this be the tortured sole of an artist? Did my positive talk and constant reinforcement of his work and goals help or hurt, did I even consider a different approach to take?

If by reading this you are concerned by my state of mind, don’t be.  I am nothing if not a positive force, always in forward motion, always seeing the possibilities not the limitations.

But my eyes are no longer half open I have found a new appreciation for those living and past who looked a little deeper, thought a little harder and longed to know who they are and what there place is in this world.

An EXCERPT FROM “PLASTIC MAN” a love lost by Matt Long

Too good of memories to get over, too much love to forget.  I sit alone now, free to go any direction my life desires and yet I still can’t forget the past.

An empty soul will always remember what used to fill it.  A scooped-out, hollow shell will never forget where the should have beens went.  Waking life is eternal waiting, and even sleep is merely haunting, tearing away everything that manners and placing just out of grasp but never out of sight or out of mind. 

In this new form of existence, asleep and awake have become one, merging on a stretching rack that twists the soul as far as it can go and laughs when that is not far enough.

Just as living in the past is doomed to failure so is the present so utterly without hope.  The curse of joy’s past surely was never to be repeated in a future joy of the same.  It seems the jigsaw puzzle once

magically solved simply by their being together no longer had all the necessary pieces.

When their hearts broke certain pieces were lost to the abyss of insecurity and depression, to never return and make the whole again.

And just as the lies could never be reality, the dreams suddenly ceased to be such a pleasant fantasy.

Their emotional fire was dying by its last glowing embers, and ashes were surely the future.  As the shreds

of their love fell away to insecurity and depression fading into nothingness, it became clear that the puzzle would never again fit and the missing pieces could never be retrieved.

Below is the story I wrote after my brother’s death.

One year ago today, Matt Long died in a car crash on the Ventura Highway. He was hit by a car traveling on the highway. The details are a bit murky, so I don’t know if my brother was trying to commit suicide or if he was just hit while walking on the side of the road. The first detective on the scene said it was a suicide. The second detective my family spoke to wasn’t as sure. Either way, the driver didn’t do it intentionally and Matt was pretty troubled at this point in his life, so I don’t see the purpose in making it a CSI episode. Now that enough time has went by, I thought I would explore how my brother came to the depths of depression he reached on his last day on earth.

Matt Long was born on July 12, 1972 in Newton,Iowa. He always had a strange mix of possessing a gentle soul, but this same soul was capable of going into rage very quickly. Our father was manic depressive, which in the 1970’s earned him the diagnosis of ‘that fellow is kind of moody.” It was not an easy life living in the house with a dad who was prone to violent mood swings. By the time my brother was just turning 6, my mom finally decided to leave my raging father.

Now, a lot of people would look upon my mom and wonder why she didn’t leave my father before this, since he was so mentally and physically abusive to us. Let me offer up that it is generally never that simple. During this time period in a Midwestern small-town there was a real stigma in getting a divorce. Add to this that my parents were part of a conservative Baptist church which saw divorce as real sin. Many people who had a pretty good idea of how violent my father could be still judged my Mom as someone who should have tried harder to keep the marriage together, if nothing else “for the kids.”

My brother was so young, so most of my father’s rage was dished out on me and my mother. Since my dad was such a big man, (6 feet 2 and 230 pounds), this was a very scary reality. Most victims of abuse eventually get to the point of feeling a bit reckless in the way they respond to it. I started to push back at my dad by the age of 12, trying to protect my mom and brother. This was when my mom realized that we had to leave my father.

Here is the other unfortunate reality that many women of abusive men have to deal with. Often they are financially dependent on these men. They also know that these men will not easily accept being separated from their family. My mom had me when she had just turned 18 years old. She had not been allowed to work outside the home, partially because my very jealous father couldn’t deal with her having friends. Since my mother had no particular discernible work skills and possessed nothing more than high school diploma, it was a daunting scenario she had to ponder.

For a couple months, my mom plotted our escape. She shared this with me, as she wanted me to know what was in store. I was ecstatic about getting away from Him, but was very nervous about if it would work. If this plan didn’t work, I knew that the retribution would be severe.

During the summer of 1979, my father was going through one of his violent rages. Matt, who was just 5 years-old had done something to further upset my father. His reaction was to push Matt down our basement stairs. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt from the fall, but my mentally beaten down mother couldn’t take this and started screaming at my father. Why she didn’t go out my father very often was because she knew his wrath would be far greater when questioned, but this time she had been pushed to the point of no return. This was her baby boy being pushed down the stairs.

As could have been predicted, my father started chasing her around the house, threatening her with great harm. She ran out the front door fearing for her physical safety. She was shoeless, running through the cornfield which was next door to us, just trying to fend for her life. While this wasn’t the perfect time to leave, she had reached her breaking point.

My dad was the coach of my Little League team and we had a game in less than hour. The 3 of us went to the ball field. My father told his 2 boys not to mention what had just happened to anyone. This is something you learn early when you are part of a family that suffers from an abusive parent. As fearful as I was of facing my father’s violence, I was even more concerned about the ridicule I would face from people I knew outside the house. I know this sounds weird, but being socially stigmatized because of his behavior was a worse punishment than anything my father could do to me.

Oh and by the way, if you think Alex Rodriguez feels an unfair amount of pressure, try playing a game where you know your mentally-insane dad is completely on the edge of furor. (Let me quickly offer that what Alec Baldwin said to his daughter was a love song in comparison to what I dealt with on a daily basis.) With this situation being at the stage of code red, I knew the only way that my brother and I would have any possible chance of getting through the night unscathed was if I played well. Fortunately I went 3 for 5, with a couple of doubles and our team won. Hurrah for ME!!!

Baseball was the first thing that really bonded my brother and me. Being 6 years younger than me, Matt always was trying to follow in my footsteps. My escape from the turmoil surrounding me was to lose myself in baseball books. Matt followed suit. We were both precocious kids who always were way ahead the typical reading level for our age, so we would discuss baseball statistics from the back of our baseball cards like Wall Street traders do about Price to Earning ratios.

Matt suffered from intestinal blockage his entire life. While he had a hard-time with potty training, he seemed on a normal path, until my parents separation. From there, his colon issues seemed to get worse. The blockage issues caused him to often feel weak and he was always small for his age. Considering that the thing he most wanted to do was be a good baseball player, these physical challenges were very tough on him. He was the quintessential little kid in right field, who the coach would have to play just enough so he could get one at bat. Even though at the age of 8 he knew more about the history of the game than probably anyone else on the particular diamond he was playing on, it did little to help him be a better player.

So for the next couple of days I was home with Matt, while my father was at work. At night, my father would put us in our wood-paneled station wagon, driving around our town frantically looking for my mom. Now the question might be, what was my mom doing leaving us with a madman? She knew if she didn’t have a place that he couldn’t find us, when she came to take us away, it would be a worse situation than what we were dealing with at the time.

On day 4, while my dad was at work, my mom came by the house, with an old friend of hers and thus began our witness protection journey of evading my father that whole summer. While my brother and I had always been close, we bonded even more, as we spent so much time together. We couldn’t see any of our friends, as we were living on a farm a few miles away, where my dad wouldn’t know we were at.

Eventually my parents were divorced and we went to live in government housing outside of Des Moines. Versus the large ranch-style home we had lived in, but for the most part* we didn’t have to worry about my dad making our lives a living hell.

*When my Dad found out where we were living, he did bang on the door a few times demanding we let him in, even though my mom had a restraining order against him. When we wouldn’t let him and told him he we were going to call the police, he would threaten to kill himself. Maybe this is why I’ve never been a big fan of the show Cops. When you’ve lived it, the impact of the show loses some of its appeal.

To keep my father out of the picture, my mom didn’t take him back to court for not paying his child support. As embarrassing as it was to be on food stamps, living in government subsidized housing, she knew it was completely unhealthy for her sons to spend anymore time with their father. Sure she could have sent him to jail and garnished his wages, but he was at a point where he probably would have killed us if that would have occurred. Not a lot of good choices there, so you have to go with survival instinct over what is right, sometimes.

Matt’s time in school was a mixed bag. He was intellectually advanced for his age, so his grades were very high, but school is lot more than good marks. Matt was a bit socially awkward and the constant fear that people would discover that he sometimes didn’t have total control of his bowel movements created a special kind of fear I can only guess would be immensely traumatic. Outside of couple freaks and geeks he congregated with, he spent most of his time reading science fiction and comic books. These were his escape from the reality that was often pretty dismal.

By the time he reached high school, Matt decided to transform himself, by eating well and working out. He also put effort in to what he considered superficial things, like how he combed his hair and what clothes he wore. While it didn’t make him a captain of the football team, he was able to join the popular group. Considering he was always good-looking, he had a surplus of opportunities to date the “hot” girls. It was like one of those John Hughes movies, if Anthony Michael Hall would have become Johnny B. Goode.

As tough as his life had been, my brother told me later that this was his most dishonest time period, despite how popular he had become. Deep down inside he knew he was still the same kid picked last for the team. He was still the kid who couldn’t control his twisted intestines. Matt had tasted popularity and he was too much of a natural outsider to feel comfortable with what comes with it.

From that point on he was focused on a life that wouldn’t make him have to accept superficiality. During college he was top-notch debater, who competed on a national level. While I held out hopes that he would become a professor, Matt was never organized enough to move up this academic ladder. The “small things” in life, like filling out forms, following directions, etc. kept him from finishing his graduate studies.

A Sad Day in Standup History

After a short time doing the “real world” jobs that most have to fill to take care of themselves, Matt decided that he would try stand-up comedy. I tried to be supportive of his goals, even though I wasn’t crazy about him following in my footsteps. After a short time doing the “real world” jobs that most have to fill to take care of themselves, Matt decided that he would try stand-up comedy. I tried to be supportive of his goals, even though I wasn’t crazy about him following in my footsteps. Since the best way to become a good comic is to get consistent stage time, I spoke to Chris Lindgren and Tom Hansen about becoming the House MC at Lindgren’s club in Grand Forks, ND.  Don’t let what some sell you as some classes being COMEDY BOOTCAMP, the real comedy bootcamp was the Westward Ho. .  You would stay for at least 6 months there doing comedy every Wed-Sat.  Since you were performing for a lot of the same people each month, it pushed you to write a lot of material.  A bonus you had was that as the house MC, you also had to host karaoke after each show.  Oh and did I mention that Grand Forks is one of the coldest, most depressing places to live in the US?  Fortunately, it is also a city with a lot of great people, so the alcoholism you will embrace there leaves you with a lot of good people to have drinks with.

After Matt finished his comedy sentence in Grand Forks, Matt moved to the Twin Cities.  Matt was pretty funny and did better than 95% of people who try to make standup comedy their profession. This means he actually got paid 20 weeks a year to tell jokes across the country. Unfortunately, 20 weeks of opening doesn’t pay more than making you a traveling vagrant, staying with friends and acquaintances. It’s a tough grind.

Struggling artist has a romantic title to it, but in truth it gets old for most of those around them. Matt seemed to have a sense of entitlement to him. My mom had worked hard at a full-time job, while putting herself through community college. Her work ethic helped her rise quickly in her professional career to a management level. While not flush with cash, she was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for my brother. (I was out of the house by this point.) Despite this, he generally had an attitude of feeling he deserved more than he was being given.

After a few years of chasing his standup comedy dream, he came to the realization that he was never going to happen on the level he wanted it to. He decided to transition his creative juices into a screenwriting career. He pumped out a few of scripts and after meeting someone in Oklahoma…who knew someone in LA…who knew someone at a studio, he decided to move to SoCal.

The person he fantasized would read his scripts didn’t exist on the level Matt thought he did. Matt struggled to find a place to stay, learning how difficult it is to find a decent place to stay in such a high-rent district like SoCal. I’m sure his pride was beyond damaged at this point, so he stopped calling my Mom or me. Since he didn’t have a cell phone, we had no way to contact him.

A week before Thanksgiving 2005, I received a collect call from Matt. His tone was very strange. He told me that he been in the Phoenix area for awhile and that some “bad shit was going down there.” He asked if I could fly him to where I live and let him stay at my house until he could figure oout what his next step was. As much as I wanted to help him, I questioned his mental state and was concerned about how he would be around my 1 year-old daughter, especially considering that I’m gone so much from home because of my job. Despite these serious reservations, I couldn’t deny my brother, so I told him to call me tomorrow, as I would set up the flight.

He called me collect the next day and I told him I had a flight set up. I said for him to call me again in an hour and I would have all the details. He thanked me for helping him. I didn’t hear from him that day or the next or…..

Both my mom and I were very concerned, so after a couple of weeks of not hearing from him, we called the Phoenix police and filed a missing report on him. We continued to stay on the police force, until one day a detective got an employment lead on him and showed up at the place he was working at. The detective called us that night and told us that Matt was fine, though very annoyed that we had gotten the police involved. Matt also told the detective to relay to us that he wanted nothing to do with us

In a short review of someone’s life like this one, you can never truly explain all the events that go into why you come to the decisions you do. My mom and I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to contact him and this last dagger (comment) made it difficult to want to care much anymore.

For the next 4 months, neither one of us heard anything from Matt. Then a week before April 24, 2007, we both received calls from him. It happened to work out that he called us both at our home numbers, which was very unfortunate since we were both away at the time. His message said he just wanted to call to say hi and added he would call back soon. He sounded very low. We would never hear his voice again.

From the little we were able to learn from the VenturaCounty detective, Matt had just a 8 cents in his pocket and a green lighter. The blunt force of being hit by car at high speeds made sure he was going to be a closed-casket. The way the police were able to identify him was that he had been booked and fingerprinted the week before at the local station. The officer that had brought him in had done so on suspicion of drug use. He told the police that he had been in the area for only about a week and was very sick. They locked him up for the night, but let him go the next day when he passed the drug test they had given him.

If you think this is a fucking sad way to go, I would agree. Matt had told me a few years before this that he would rather die than do a job that didn’t fulfill him creatively. I think he could see the writing on the wall, and his own writing would never achieve the dreams he had for it.

My brother was 33 years old. When my father was 33 years old, distraught and unstable from the impending divorce from my mom, he jumped in front of truck. While he was injured in the accident, he had time to recover in the state mental institution that he spent most of his next year in. Matt never knew about this specific incident, so I don’t think it was a case of him emulating the father that he despised so much. No, Matt Long was just another fatality on the life’s highway of broken dreams. I miss him.

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5 thoughts on “Dedication to a Tortured Artist

  1. Sorry for your great sorrow Scott. My older sister has been heading down that road for some time now, and I don’t know how to help her. Your story was compelling, thank you.

    1. Scott,
      I dont know if you’ll get this, and its crazy how we lose touch from those who have made an impact in our lives. My name is Mike Kicinski and last night, my girlfriend and I were watching this comic who reminded me of an old friend I worked with here in Bellevue, WA named Matthew P. Long. I met Matt in the spring of 2003 when I was hired as a telemarketer for a mortgage company here. There was this huge office, a front desk secretary, a creepy broker/owner a la James Spader in the movie “Secretary,” and one telemarketer named Matt. I was to train under him and learn the ‘tricks of the trade.’ Thankfully, his humor and stories got me through the 5 hour humdrum shifts of calling people to see if they wanted to refinance their homes…blah…We had many smoke breaks together, would walk across the street to this little Mexican grocery store and try new authentic treats about every other day which made my shifts that much more tolerable. He would be reading a newspaper every day when I came in to work, jotting down lines and topics for future bits (the only reason he really read the news, he would tell me). I was invited to a couple of standup shows here where he was opening, and realized what a smart sense of working a crowd this “telemarketer” had! After moving to Canada in 2006, I lost touch with him due to cell phones being cancelled, and until last night watching a Jim Norton stand up show on Comedy Central, just thought to google this old friend of mine as the resemblance both in thier presentation and vocals was so uncanny. Hence this website I found, sadly, this morning and decided to put aside my daily drab of facebooking, news-reading and have my morning coffee while I sadly read the entire webpage. THANK YOU, Scott, for sharing with us who you guys truly were and where you came from. Matt had said to me “you know comics are probably the most depressed individuals on the planet,” and never had known the scene (being a musician and songwriter) or anyone involved in it, that comment really stuck out and made sense to me. Matt, I miss you, and can hear your voice next to me still: “This is Matt calling from American Mortgage Company…(hang-up call)…well, f**k you then…” The laughs never stopped, you made me double over many a time I would have to hang up the phone whilst calling someone because of the great many one-liners you’d spew between calls…I miss you, miss you more now that I know what happened to you and thank you for truly introducing me into the world of stand-up comedy (my first live standup show I ever attended was with you!). He “introduced” me to Bill Hicks, a comic legend who died much too early as well, and had said he was Matt’s personal favorite to watch and emulate, among many other comics whom I would never have ‘discovered’ had it not been for Matt. May you rest in peace, old friend, and thank you, Scott for sharing this story with me and so many others. Matthew P. Long was my friend, my colleague and an honest, TRUE human being, in all senses…depressed or not, he made ME laugh, and that’s one soul he touched out of many. Until someday we shall meet again…just as long as it’s not at American Mortgage Company 🙂

      1. Mike, thanks so much for sharing this. It gave me a chance to feel closer to Matt again. I miss him. Please stay in touch.

  2. Reading this now, I wish I could have done more as a kid to help your situation… Your mother is a great lady.

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