Richard Sherfey

Published on January 31st, 2019

Richard Sherfey by Mike Dunn

The first time I met Richard Sherfey my band was touring through Athens, Georgia. It was a bit cold but as a bunch of Florida boys we were very excited for an opportunity to wear leather jackets in an appropriate setting. We met at a spot called the Globe, talked about mutual friends, and music, and beer. When the check came, well it didn’t, Richard had taken care of it as he continued to do throughout his life in one way or another.

That night we got wasted.

Richard used to run what we would not so kindly refer to as a “shiny shirt bar.” An upstairs venue bumping the latest hits of the mid 2000s to drunk undergrads spending their parents dime on shots of Soco and lime, fast poured rum and cokes, and cheap light beer. The craft beer boom was just around the corner, Richard knew that too. We didn’t fit in until the bar closed at 2am. Then it was just us. Then we fit in. We took turns playing records, and of course, drinking.

Then I heard his record, and I heard his voice for the first time. “Holy shit. This is you??” I owed him an apology, music wasn’t a spectator sport for Richard it was full contact. For many years a living magic trick he’d pull out once in a while and put it back in it’s box where it shook violently until it’s next appearance. He embodied the character of the drunken preacher to tell, or shout, a story of belonging. Half the time that was water in his wine bottle. And well, half the time it wasn’t.

He had a keen mind for business even though he grew to distance himself from that side in the past couple years. We went back this summer and visited one of his friends, now managing his own bar. I could see, Richard taught him everything he knew. He was proud, and joyful, but never wanted to go back.

He was giving, sometimes too much.

Once in a while he’d drink too much wine and ask me to punch him in the face. “I just think all of my buddies should know how to throw a good punch.” I never did it but it was a sign, admittedly an odd one, that he would gladly hurt for you.

We both grew up deeply religious in a personal sense. When I was young I had an alter in my room, lined with prayer cards and candles. I thought of heaven and hell in real physical senses, God and the devil and the litany of saints below them waging war for our souls. It’s heavy stuff for anyone, forget a kid. Richard had a different path but we felt the same things, parallel lines with distance between pointing in the same direction. He studied religion, I studied philosophy.

John Fortson, Jared D. Wynne, Richard Sherfey and CJ Mask at Will’s Pub by Mike Dunn

We talked about these paths and experiences, his struggle with spirituality and reason, doubt and belief. He struggled with dichotomy and the anxiety it brought. His favorite professor, Danny Goodman, told him something that he passed on to me: that these dichotomies are two sides of the same coin, and it’s more important to keep it flipping. Richard was constantly flipping that coin.

Good friends work in tandem like bungie cords, pushing and pulling where needed, forming a safety net when one friend falls too low. You learn your strength, and you learn those around you. In the darkest time of my life I told my counselor that Richard was my “Goldilocks Friend”, not too hot or cold. His advice, his support was never too weak or overpowering. Just right.

And now, as you know, that union is gone. If you’ve ever had a group text go permanently silent or a shared calendar removed you know that odd modern feeling, that something can be here and gone at the same time.

Richard didn’t limit his study, or his search, to traditional channels. He found knowledge and insight everywhere; music and lyrics, podcasts, walks, and good conversation. In the past couple years he took and dramatic and focused approach to that journey. To be frank, we debated and disagreed on a lot of the process of that journey throughout the past couple months. Richard loved mythology and symbolism as much though, and his path included all of rigors Joseph Campbell, The Bible and Lord of the Rings taught him in kind.

He was looking for transcendence beyond the on/off switch of belief. I choose to think he found it. At the very least it made him happier while he was here, almost surprisingly. I rarely saw him in a bad mood during his final months, that depressive batting average was far better than mine. At the same time he knew what was happening inside his own body better than any of us could. His joy and his journey was a choice, his physical body was not.

Richard had been staying with me for a couple weeks, working on some new songs. Last week we hung out with some good friends and we got into it a little bit. Sherf told me, “I think I know why you and I are disagreeing so much. I’m happy as a passenger in the universe and you’re really concerned about being a driver.”

I got a little upset, “OF COURSE I AM. Are we at least on the same road?” We still laughed about it. No one was really convincing the other. When we’d get too caught up in the “rightness” of searching we would remind ourselves of that great Dawes song, “It’s like trying to make out every word / When we should simply hum along.”

Richard took up a mantra in his final months, both/and. It was part Søren Kierkegaard, part Elliot Smith. But it was mainly a conviction that both answers can be right and at the same time there is no answer at all. He can be right, and I can be right. That real, deep truth is big enough and kind enough to allow for that quantum state of possibility. His stance was never prescriptive, only descriptive, just his journey. He wanted you to have your own.

My journey is forever impacted by Richard Sherfey. My hands on the clutch are loosened, and though stepping on the gas is simply in my nature, the destination isn’t quite as important, only the direction. I am devastated by the loss of my dear friend, I am immmensely grateful that I had these years with him. I am both/and.

A couple nights later I left for the holidays early in the morning, 4am. I accidentally woke him up.

“Hey buddy.”

“Hey man. I’m heading out, you’re welcome to crash in my bed.”

I know there’s an odd morbidity that goes along with this but I’m so glad that’s the last thing I shared with him, a place to rest. He would have done that, and so much more for me. He has.

A friend reminded me of a quote by William James, “The best argument I know for an immortal life is the existence of a man who deserves one.”

To me at least, his journey isn’t over. Faith and doubt are sides of the same coin. You are the driver and the passenger, the bow and the arrow. It doesn’t matter who saves your soul, Jesus or Rock n’ Roll. And there aren’t many problems that can’t be solved over a glass of dry red wine.

He was a little bit of everything, he was/is both/and.

~ Mike Dunn
Homepage photo by Jared D. Wynne

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