Roughly two years go, I received a Facebook friend request from someone named Jonathan Dick in Birmingham, Alabama. I was late to join social media so the idea of befriending someone I didn’t know struck me as curious. Jonathan was different: I found his profile picture – a snapshot of an intimate tea party with his daughter – utterly endearing. The best part was his daughter’s expression; sass and innocence combined. I later remembered a friend passed along a thoughtful interview Jonathan conducted with Tom Gabriel Fischer on his site Steel For Brains. I accepted Jonathan’s request, and I’m glad I did. I’ve met very few people like him, and I know many who feel the same. I’m glad this special person invited me to become part of their life.
It’s a strange world we live in. You can become friends with someone without meeting them. The people sitting next to you in an office are strangers and people thousands of miles away are confidantes. Physical presence has given way for the virtual self, the curated human. The metal community has long been a way for people to connect with the friends they couldn’t find in their hometown. In the past, letters and tapes circumnavigated the world via snail mail. Today, we share stream of consciousness rants via text.
Jonathan and I talked a lot. We talked about music. We talked about getting older. We laughed about stupid crap. We sent each other ridiculous memes. We talked about family. We talked about what we thought all of this craziness meant. It was obvious that Jonathan’s three kids – including his daughter Hannah – were the center of his life.
I felt an immediate connection with Jonathan. In 2015 almost anyone can start a blog, write a cursory album review, reprint a press release or send a caustic Tweet. Everyone considers themselves a writer; everyone has an opinion; everyone is loud; everyone is an expert. As a result, so much written work – especially about music – is ephemeral. Jonathan, however, always struck me as someone willing to do the work, someone trying to create something lasting. He does it because he loves it and because he believes passionately in underground music. He is also someone who appreciates quiet. In a world where everyone wants to be heard, he realizes that a writer's job is to listen and observe, to be the one person who asks a good question, to find the nuance in the spaces between words.
More than ever, writing about music is solely a labor of love. There's no Almost Famous scenario, especially if you love metal. There aren’t press junkets or hotel parties. There’s no career path. There’s not even free compact discs sent to your door like there was ten years ago. You sit alone in your room, with a digital recorder and a Haulix account, and try to make sense of what you hear. You transcribe. You play with words and try to get them to sound right. You wonder if anyone cares about what you do. Jonathan is one of the people willing to do the thankless work, and it shows. His work never shies away from vulnerability, which makes it even more endearing.
Steel For Brains, which Jonathan started as a way to cope when life got tough, deservedly became one of the go-to sites in metal. SFB reminds me a lot of Invisible Oranges in its heyday roughly five years ago: the writing is sharp; there is a supportive community checking out stories on a daily basis and it is all done without a wonderful sense of curiosity and respect for metal’s lineage. As a result, Jonathan has become an in-demand writer with bylines in Decibel, Stereogum, NPR and many others. The attention and success is deserved.
Jonathan, however, has been dealing with much tougher issues. Hannah, the girl who can steal your heart with an expression, needs our help. She's been diagnosed with ciliary dyskinesia, a lung disease that requires daily breathing treatments and stringent monitoring. While Jonathan works as a teacher and has health insurance it isn’t enough to cover the debts incurred from Hannah’s recent hospitalization. Health care isn't cheap in this country and ongoing conditions are even thornier to navigate. Kim Kelly recently started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay these staggering costs and I urge you to donate whatever is possible. The've only reached half of the goal and it's not enough. We can do better.
In a few years of work Jonathan has helped build the metal community and insured this music will live for generations, primarily through his own hustle and sense of purpose. His daughter will be making even bigger differences when she gets older so let’s give her – and her father – help when they need it.