“I know!” was perhaps the most frequent phrase I remember that Jim Sheeler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who died last weekend at 53, told me during our 30 years of friendship. I once told him the story of a Pepsi Center filled with Jimmy Buffett fans who hooted at me for refusing to return the volley of flying beach balls before one of his concerts. “I hate it,” Jim agreed, and we went to a concert, where someone started hitting a beach ball, which annoyed us so much that Jim finally grabbed it and popped it. with his pen.
Everyone who knew Jim Sheeler tells a similar story of validation, empathy, even appeasement. Sometimes it could make your problems go away. “He made everyone feel like you were the most important friend,” says Jack Jackson, an American journalist in Denmark who runs a multimedia production company called Jackalope, in part as a tribute to Jim, who was inexplicably obsessed with these mythical wood hares.
It goes without saying that these qualities helped Jim connect with the people he interviewed, allowing him to make lifelong friends from sources he had never met. His many, many longtime friends have dedicated themselves to reestablishing that connection. For years, he sent Jackson “Jakpaks” full of mixtapes (and, later, ripped CDs), books, articles and wide-eyed toys, and Jackson responded with “Jimpaks.”
In 1982, Pat Riley was new to their Houston high school. Jim was reading a video game magazine on Donkey Kong. Riley noticed and mentioned that he was also a player. “No one spoke to me that day except him,” recalls Riley, now a Los Angeles scout for commercials. âJimmy is by far my oldest friend. I used to go on family trips so Jimmy would have someone to hang out with because he had two sisters.
Throughout the pandemic, Jim, Riley, and Jim’s other best friend Matt Milsovic have zoomed in every week, despite constantly arguing and arguing over their conflicting time zones. They had a long string of text that went so far back that when Jim remembered that a student at Case Western Reserve University missed a class, citing diarrhea, the trio mentioned the word “diarrhea” so many times. that they were unable to research Jim’s original. text.
Jim had a way of picking up his friends at their lowest times. He helped Riley, who talks about a parcel in the most endearing way possible, write a eulogy for her late mother-in-law, suggesting that she break her subjects down into manageable, detailed pieces. When a book I wrote received a bad review, Jim immediately sent me a video of Liam Lynch’s “United States of Something”, in which the comedian and punk rocker says random things and then yells: âWHATEVER! “
At one point I mentioned to Jim the funk I was in and how hard it is to write sometimes during such a period. He understood. He called it “You Suck FM”. “What you need to do,” he explained, “is turn the dial down to You Suck FM.” To this day, whenever I feel down, and certainly when the dreaded impostor syndrome comes before I write, I hear Jim’s voice.
When Milsovic texted me that terrible day with the news of Jim’s death, my first reaction was to list all the ways Jim’s voice lodged deep in my brain. When I interview a source, and the source tells a good story, I can hear the delighted “Oh, that’s awesome!” When I listen to a new song I’m sure Jim will like it, it’s hard to explain, but I can feel in my body the process of sharing it with Jim, anticipating it by listening to it, then seeing it appear. on one of the many SoundCloud mixtapes or playlists that he has painstakingly crafted for friends over the years.
In the days following Jim’s death, I started texting Riley and Milsovic. Riley is loud, brash, talks constantly, then apologizes for talking constantly. Milsovic is circumspect, telling sweet stories about Jim, ready to cry together. After a few days I suggested to them that maybe I could have the honor of replacing Jim in their text strings as Vince Gill replaced the late Glenn Frey in the Eagles.
This led to a tangent over how much they, like Jim, hated the Eagles. The thread then took a detour through Riley and Milsovic at odds over Steely Dan, which gave way to a memory that Digital Underground’s Humpty Hump also passed away this year and that his glasses were no different from Jim’s, and wasn’t he curious that Jim and Humpty were never seen together in the same room.
Finally, Milsovic said of me: âHe can stay. He might want to go, but he can stay.
Bad news gentlemen. I’m not as good at empathizing and connecting as Jim. I talk too much about myself and I don’t listen enough to others. I play You Suck FM way too loudly and frequently in my head, and when that happens I’m in need.
But thanks. I will stay.
I wish Jim had stayed too. We all need him.
Steve Knopper is an editor of Billboard magazine based in Denver and a former contributing editor of Rolling Stone.