Wednesday, November 08, 2006
R.I.P. Malachi Ritscher: Chicago Artist, Antiwar Protester, Self-Immolator 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UPDATE: A thoughtful perspective from a blogger who personally knew Ritschler can be read at BRIC BRAC.

If you kept an eye on Chicago news this week, you may have spotted this eerie little piece:
Nov 3, 2006 12:28 pm US/Central
Body Spotted On Ohio Street Feeder To Kennedy
(CBS2) CHICAGO A body was found at the Ohio Street feeder ramp on the Kennedy Expressway.

A motorist reported reported to police that a statue was on fire, and firefighter later found out a fire had been set near an iron sculpture at the feeder ramp. State police said a body was been found, and authorities later said the man who died may have set himself on fire. A white sheet at the base of the sculpture read, "Thou Shalt Not Kill."s

In the view from Chopper 2, the sculpture, called "Flame of the Millennium," had burn marks on its base, and what was reported to be the body lay at its side, covered in a white sheet. A gasoline can and a tripod were also spotted at the scene. A videotape and camcorder were also found, according to state police. A Chicago Police Bomb and Arson Section sergeant said a video the man took might have indicated the man lit himself on fire.
That was no burning statue. The charred figure engulfed in flame was one Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago artist/musician who had staged his final performance: a videotaped self-immolation next to one of its busiest expressways, alongside a sculpture intended to welcome those entering our fair city, the "Flame of the Millennium.".

Ritscher was also known as an anti-war activist, and here he can be seen prior to his arrest during the 2003 Chicago Iraq War protests (photo taken by Dan Sloan, courtesy Chicago Indymedia.com) We haven't seen much more about Ritscher's sad end in the mainstream media. This may be partly because papers like the Sun-Times have a policy of not publicizing suicides; and partly because Ritscher's suicide recalls the infamous image of Buddhist monk Thich Quan Duc's self-immolation in protest of the Vietnam war, an association best left untouched for various reasons. From the Savagesound tribute page*:
The metaphor for his life was winning the lottery, but losing the ticket. In the end, the loneliness was overwhelming. He was deeply appreciative for everything that had been given to him, but acutely aware that the greater the present, the higher the price. He was a member of Mensa, and Alcoholics Anonymous since 1990. For him, sobriety was virtually getting a second chance at life. He practiced a personal and private spirituality, seeking to connect across the illusion that separates us from each other. Reportedly, his last words were "rosebud... oops".

Near his end, he was purchasing real estate in Vancouver with the intention of eventual emigration, unable to reconcile his conscience with his tax dollars financing an unjust war. He frequently took short trips to New York City and New Orleans, where he made more recordings of concerts. Europe seemed more civilized to him, and he experienced Paris and Amsterdam, Germany and Switzerland, as well as Madrid and Barcelona.
It's no mystery why the story has damped like a lone drop down a dark well. Ritscher, all but anonymous outside a specialized artistic circle, certainly qualifies as a private individual, and private suicides as a rule don't make the MSM regardless of their manner or motivation. Certainly, had a celebrity chosen to end their life in this manner we'd see a major swath of coverage.

But no matter. In the universe's unfathomable calculus, the sound of one body burning roars and crackles just as loudly, even if no one is there to hear it.

* I received an email from a reader, shortly after this posting, that indicated the Savagesound "Rest in Pieces" page (note its third person tone) was written by Ritscher himself, shortly before his death. [To read the comments, click the "permalink" at the head of this post to go to the post page, and go to the bottom of the page] In that light, I will read it again, in much greater depth...I should have suspected. Who else would know Ritscher's "supposed last words" - besides the police, at this point?

The chi-Improv music forum has a post about a memorial for Richter
Ritscher's MySpace page
Chicago Indymedia: The Death of Malachi Ritscher and "Martyr for Peace"
Savagesound's "Out of Time" tribute
Infoshop news
UPDATED: More on Gapers Block and Boing Boing.