Jim Shelley & Book Of Kills

Old Letter From A Long-Time Listener

I came across an old compact disc with a bunch of files from the late '90s on it, and stumbled upon this letter from long-time listener Andrew Neckowitz written November 17, 1999. (That period of my life seems like another lifetime now. Anyway, a few of you might recall that in the early 2000s Andrew was actually the band's manager, though his tenure with us only lasted a few months. He did a great job for us and it was a monumental relief for me not to have to continually be calling various venues for gigs, something I absolutely despise doing.) Anyway, here's the letter. Actually, it's more an essay, I think, that Andrew wrote for an Ain't Records newsletter:

"See, I finally have something to say. After several years, my mind has come full circle. I'd flirted with a few BOK tapes over the past few years, but my heart hasn't been fully into them. What can I say? I guess I just lost touch with the music. With Jim.

"I've spent my years since high school searching daily for heaven (paradise, whatever) and finding nothing but real life. And every time I come back to Harrisonburg, I ask Tom at Town and Campus Records if James Shelley has put anything new out. And generally the answer is a solemn, 'No'. I understand. I guess I know Jim personally. Whether he realizes it or not, he helped me. Enormously. When I was feeling alone and just plain fucked up, I could talk to him. And when I didn't have time to see him, his music helped to remind me that we're all fucked up ('We're all mad here; I'm mad, you're mad...').

"And so I left for school, Jim moved, and I haven't spoken to him much since. I think about him whenever I'm home. I drive by The Little Grill, and remember moshing to his band's heavy songs. And getting affected deeply by the rough (but so beautiful, not to sound trite) version of 'Heaven.' And the disturbing 'Little Boy Lost.'
"I bought a live Hendrix CD today. 'Little Wing' is the first song. It's a song that has always moved me. Hendrix sings the verses, then he plays for a while and shuts up, captures you with the guitar. Then Jimi (may I call him Jimi?) sums up my dreams and desires in one simple line: 'Fly high, Little Wing.' I hope Jim Shelley can hear those words still. I hope he knows that there are those of us out here who will never forget him. He has affected us all.
'Like I was saying, though, I went away to school. Harrisonburg became my second home, Blacksburg my first. I'm not sure if I even kept Jim's number. I hope so. I saw him last summer. We talked in Wal-Mart about him taking his children fishing. I realized then that as two people, we are miles apart. I guess that bothered me at first. Someone I admired so much as my teacher in high school was so different and seemed so hard for me to talk to. Because what was there to talk about? Gerunds? Dangling modifiers?
"His bands had all fallen flat. No one else had his dedication. Nor his love, his inherent and unbelievable love for the music.

"I wonder what his current students think of him. I wonder if he still sends out 'Notes From Underground'. I didn't know Jim that well outside of school. I thought I did. I thought of him as my friend. But in truth, he was my teacher. Not just in the sense that he taught me English and Creative Writing. Standing there in the Walmart, I felt as though I had lost a friend, because I had nothing to say to him once I was away at Virginia Tech. But tonight I have something to say.
"Jim is everyone's friend whom he can be a friend to. In that sense, he will always be my friend. I may not know every day what's happening in his life, but I will always have something that he has given me: Knowledge.

"I saw how much it hurt him when a new formation of BOK didn't work out. I read his letters again recently and noted the sarcasm and defensiveness he used to control his excitement when a new version of the band became a possibility. He even thanked me once on the inside cover of one of his tapes. I think it was me, anyway. (It was. -- ed.) Among the usual names was one extra: 'Andy'. I wonder if he realizes what that meant to me. Still means to me.

"Hey, I have something to say. This man, who has led twice the life I have both in years and otherwise, showed me that life is about being real. It's not about what 'they' think (since 'everybody's got a fuckin' opinion') or what we read in books. It's about living. Jim, so far, does not have a big record contract. He is a home taper. That bothers him, I know. But I think he sometimes overlooks one very important point: The music business is about entertainment. And while Jim wants to (and does) entertain, his music is mostly about being real. And the couple hundred copies he sells of each album mean more to those who buy them than any over-produced, corporate garbage that we all ingest and dispose of daily.

"Jim seems distraught when I talk to him now. He seems depressed that things aren't going the way he might have dared dream. But he taught me that living and doing what you desire are the most important things in life. Maybe, if nothing else, he can learn from me that his philosophy is damn right. Who needs assholes trying to sell music to the masses when Rockingham County has its own fucking-a musical genius to appreciate?

"Hey, I've got something to say. It took me three years to realize that Jim is a real person. And while I guess I don't know him very well, he taught me a lot. And I hope he realizes that. I hope he keeps making music, and I hope he is happy. I hope he never fades away like so many a 'rock star'. And I hope I can find his damn phone number, because it's been entirely too long since he and I have spoken."