Poster from a rock & roll safehouse,
Louisville, Kentucky, ca. 1991 (detail) by Rhonda Roberts
Anyone who has ever lived dangerously and loved deeply at the same time has friends whose death would come as no surprise. Theo was always one of those people in my life. I met her more than twenty years ago when we were both what I would now call kids, and even then I wouldn't have been surprised if she had turned up dead. I would have been horrified and disgusted, angry and profoundly sad, but not surprised. Theo was courageous, candid, often fearless, and she loved with a wild abandon many things that are very dangerous, even deadly: booze, narcotics, band guys, sex with band guys, a good dare.
Theo has died at age 44. I am horrified and disgusted, angry and profoundly sad, but not surprised. It always seemed like she could go away from us at any time. When social media threw old friends and lovers into each other's arms a few years ago, and Theo and I found one another online, I'll admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find her still alive. I probably would have been less surprised if I had found one of the other girls from the Louisville scene of the early 1990s alive instead and she had told me Theo was no longer with us.
I totally loved Theo. Theo was one of my great teachers. I ran away from graduate school in literature to play rock & roll on the road in 1991 and ran smack dab into Theo and all of her creepy and fabulous friends in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a long story that only matters, at this point, to a few hundred people. We lived the rock & roll dream, playing our music in bars, going home with strangers, waking up in the middle of house parties that turned into unexpected adventures in strange cities. We took each other on the road, from town to town. We evolved shared vocabularies with a widening circle of friends who stayed in touch through original rock & roll music traveling from town to town in battered vans. Media was much less social back then, so it was left to socially gifted people like Theo to connect people and to keep us that way.
We all did a lot of things back then that we probably aught not to have done. But we did them anyway. The problem is these things can be very fun to do when you are young and discovering yourself and have no one else to care for but yourself. Most of the people I know from those days slowed way down and, at some point, began to take care of people other than themselves who needed them to stay alive. So we have stayed alive. I am told that Theo never slowed down very much and, from what I could tell, she seemed to remain her only (considerable) caretaking problem until the end.
I want to be 25 again, and for Theo to be 23. I want to do it all over again and once again to learn from Theo about rock &roll and all those exciting and dangerous things that travel with rock & roll. Because I want to go back there so badly, despite all of the nourishing and thrilling things in my life today, I forgive Theo for never slowing down or completely growing up. If it didn't kill you, it was one hell of a way to live. The rock & roll party all night (and into the next day) journey that Theo took us on was an ecstatic experience. Everyone truly alive that I have ever known was looking for some equivalent of that ecstatic experience. Theo was an expert at creating and freely sharing ecstatic experience. It was, and is, so worth living for.
We owe you, Theodora Collins. We miss you, Theo.