Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"The Vultures Can Wait:" Thoughts on Jill Janus

The vultures can wait.”

Those were Jill Janus’ partings words to me when I interviewed her in 2015.

In the five days since the announcement of her death began to spread, my interview with her has received more hits than it had in the 33 months prior to the news. I have very mixed feelings about that.

While the piece now serves to offer insight into her struggles and offers at least some answers as to why a “popular” and “successful” person would take her own life at 43, it was initially meant to offer readers a sense of hope and showcase the victories of someone who was working incredibly hard to survive. I can’t help but fear that some of those fans who looked to Jill as a symbol of strength against harrowing odds now read my piece (or others like it) and could possibly lose hope for their own situations because Jill didn't make it.

I get that. One of the reasons why Jill’s passing has affected me more than the passing of another fellow musician I've encountered in my travels might is because I found myself needing to hold onto the words she offered me – and her lyrics on Huntress’ Static album – very tightly in recent times. That album spoke to my heart, and I drew inspiration and courage from it. In a sense, I wanted her to thrive and survive because I needed her to. To know that she lost her fight hits home very hard.

Of course, it’s incredibly selfish and unfair for any of us to pin expectations that high on anyone – in the public spotlight or not – who speaks openly about their demons and efforts to overcome them. Everyone encounters individuals – from family members to favorite artists/musicians/authors, etc. – who easily become positive role models in some way, and it truly does sting when that person is perceived to have failed. That said, it’s important to always remember that we are all on individual journeys in this life, even when we are placed in a public spotlight that obliges us to fill and maintain a particular role.

One recent example: Demi Lovato has spent years candidly discussing her issues with depression and addiction. In my mind, her recent overdose after a lengthy period of sobriety doesn’t diminish the important work she has done in using her voice and status to bring serious issues to light and inspire others along the way.

Ultimately, Jill Janus’ suicide doesn’t destroy the fact that Static - and her honesty about her life - will continue to provide strength, solace and power to those who need it. That record has already saved lives. That’s a tremendous gift for Jill to leave the world, even if her own gifts weren’t able to elevate her beyond her own torment. It’s hard to accept how her life concluded, but her work will forever be an inspiration and lifetime to me and many others. That power is still there – and hopefully for all of us, the vultures will still need to wait.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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