To be clear Jonathan is not DEAD but sometimes a bridge will collapse. Or a mountain lion will startle someone off the side of a mountain. A tomato-faced drunk will step into the path of a bus, or a landmine will turn a person into spaghetti. All of this happens like lightning. If you’d had the foresight, you’d have gotten out of the way. Or stayed in bed.
This stuff isn’t common. You’re more likely to find a pot of gold than step on a landmine. At least over here. But most people know someone, who knows someone, who knows this other guy, who’s friends with the sister of the lady who’s the neighbor of a person who’s had something awful like that happen to them. Life is full of permanent things. Some of these are put on us by other people, and others are a blindfolded dart game with fate. You just don’t get back up after being hit by a bus or falling off a mountain. Those things last forever.
None of that happened to Jonathan Facka.
If you dressed him up as a cowboy or ranch hand, he’d look the part. Put him in a tailored suit and hand him a gun and a badge, and Facka would look like a homicide detective. In a lab coat, he could be the cardiologist with the Hallmark bedside manner. A casting director would have an easy task finding a scene for Jonathan Facka, and Facka wouldn’t have to say a word. He’s big like he played football and tall enough to be intimidating, but once they heard his voice, the director would want to write dialogue just for him.
In retrospect, his predicament isn’t a blockbuster, in the Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay sense of the word. More like a script written by Jim Jarmusch or Charlie Kaufman. A relatively unknown singer-songwriter playing music in a town that’s in love with punk rock, gentrification, and hippie drugs. He takes benzos for anxiety and is dreading an operation on his heart. There’s no love interest to pine over while writer’s block is mixed into a cocktail with thoughts of mortality and his own legacy. The dreamscape of flatlining on the operating table, unrecognized. Out at 32, with no one to hear the songs from his lone studio album, The Tarmac.
Death at Facka’s age seems more appropriate for the time before running water or electricity. The days of smallpox and brackish water, musket balls and dysentery, when men in their thirties were grandfathers who lived off the land, buried children, and never smiled. These days, someone dying at 32 is normally due to misadventure: a car accident, gun violence, an act of God… or maybe they just had it coming.
A life ending at 32 is difficult to process. Even more difficult when that life is yours.
PAC stands for premature atrial contraction. PVC stands for premature ventricle contraction. Each is a negative condition of the heart — and Facka has both of them. Essentially, his heart skips a beat, and he can feel it when it happens.
“A lot of people have PVCs… but I have both,” he said. “The PACs are not as symptomatic as the PVCs. When they happen, they essentially reset my rhythm. My heart just skips and starts over again. It’s technically an extra beat in the heart. But if you’re checking the pulse, it feels as though it just stops and then starts again… it’s a bump, bump, bump [pause] bump, bump, bump. It stops.”
He’s had random people check his pulse when this happens, and their reactions are the same. Mildly amused or bewildered. Facka plays his heart condition off as a joke to most people. See, if you get too serious about a mild heart condition, people will laugh at you. Call you melodramatic? They’ll name off all the people they know — or don’t know — who have it worse off than you do, and suddenly you feel ashamed for mentioning your heart condition in the first place. Facka didn’t say this, but the hesitation in his voice gave it away. He’s a sensitive guy, and most people are hard. Unless you’re hit by a bus, it just comes off as bitching.
“A lot of this involves anxiety,” Facka said. “That makes it worse. And I have anxiety. I have medication that I take for anxiety: Ativan. I actually just stopped taking as much Ativan as I was taking. It was one of the drugs that was found in Taylor Hawkins’ [system]. When he died, he had benzos in his blood. So ever since Taylor Hawkins’ death, I have not been taking benzos. Then I actually started drinking again, which is similar. Benzos hit the same receptors.”
All of this has affected his songwriting.
“I’ve written a few songs, but not like I used to,” he said. “What I’m most excited about is this surgery. When they do it, they’re going to cauterize the part inside my heart where the electrical malfunction is happening. It’s gonna smooth out the beats and stuff. So, I can get back to my life, and I don’t have to worry about taking pills every day.”
What would he do if he didn’t have all that to worry about anymore?
“I want to do a tour,” he said. “I feel like [then] I’ll be more willing to, or more ready to write songs, because right now I’m a little bit distracted. It’s really hard to look to the future when you’re going through something like this, and looking to the future is a huge motivator for me writing songs. So if there’s no future, then there’s no point in me writing songs. I’ve been at kind of a standstill.”
Thelma Toole was the mother of John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces. 11 years after his suicide, she found the manuscript for that book on top of a dusty armoire in her son’s room. She visited Walker Percy at Tulane University in New Orleans and begged him to read the carbon-copied manuscript. Finally, Percy did read it, and A Confederacy of Dunces won Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. Stories like these never happen.
“No future” should be the impetus to Facka’s writing, not its undoing. There’s desperation in fighting and in giving up. However, these are two completely different people. Jonathan wants to live, and his story is his own.
“People are gonna read this like, ‘Dang, son. This guy really thought he was gonna die.’”
Toole killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning, and Facka could die on the table with a catheter in his heart. Though unlikely, it could happen. People have died during back surgeries, coded out during knee surgeries. His doctors said an ablation is a very simple procedure that will cure his cardiac arrhythmia, but it’s still a 297-degrees-Kelvin, high-powered, focused laser beam, purposely coming into contact with his most vital of organs. Anything could happen. A bad reaction to anesthesia. A power outage. The cardiac surgeon could sneeze. A blindfolded dart game with fate.
And the outcome is permanent.
“I hope I can make another album,” he said. “My latest single, ‘Right Here,’ I put out in advance because of this. Because I said, ‘Just in case I die, at least I left one thing behind, instead of holding it.’ Because I’m not a big believer in singles. I’m a believer in albums. But this is a rare occasion where I said, ‘Let’s release this as a single right beforehand.’ And if I live, then I’ll tie it all in and make it an album. I bring up the point all the time that I don’t have enough time. When someone’s like, ‘Why do you work so hard?’ It’s [because] I’ve seen people pass. And also, I think people get frustrated… they’re not doing what they want to do. They’re living their life, and they’re not doing what they want to do.”
Sit somewhere long enough, or lay in bed late at night unable to sleep, and you’ll find all kinds of things to think about. Maybe something happened earlier that day, or maybe there was something you should’ve done that afternoon, or something you should’ve done five years ago. All the things you can talk yourself into and out of are there too. Where did all the time go, and what did you do with it? What are you going to do with what’s left? More of the same or something different? Throw possible mortality into the mix and you’ll be up until sunrise.
“The reason why I’m doing this is because the end result is going to be better for my life,” he said. “I’m 32 years old, [been] taking medication for the last two years, twice a day. If I forget a pill, then my heart trips out. It sucks. [If I] go to a friend’s house or whatever, if I end up falling asleep somewhere and I’m frazzled [and] my pills [are] in the car. ‘Where are they?’ It’s a limitation that I don’t want. The whole reason I’m doing this is because I want to say at least I died trying to fix this. Instead of just living with it. Because I’m not a guy who just lives with shit like that.”
Sometimes you only get one chance at gaining something more. Maybe it’s an opportunity. Maybe it’s love. But when it’s gone, you’ll remember it forever and look for it everywhere.
“I’ve gone through a lot of things with my health, and I’ve seen a lot of people living these carefree lives. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going through something too,” he said. “And the takeaway I get is, it could always be worse. But you shouldn’t take it for granted, because you never know how screwed up things can get. There’s a saying: it’s all downhill from here. [Or] you can only go up from here. I say you can always still go down. You can always still go down. So appreciate where you are. It’s kind of like crypto right now. It’s like, ‘Crypto is crashing. Should I sell now? No, I’ll hold it.’ $7 on this one particular one, and oh, now it’s $3. It’s crashing and crashing. It can always still go down. So that’s, I guess, where I get my hope from. Which seems kind of bleak, but hopefully in the following year, years to come after this, I truly will go up.”
Jonathan eventually had the surgery. And just like the doctors said, he made it through without incident. The ablation was a success, and the “bump, bump, bump [pause], bump, bump, bump” is mostly cured. He may still need to go under once more. The anxiety probably hasn’t gone completely away. But it usually doesn’t, for a musician or any type of creative. Or maybe anyone, really. The what’s next and how much time is left is always in the back of the mind. Was it a waste? Did I matter?
Jonathan Facka didn’t fall off a mountain or step on a landmine. He didn’t flatline on a table and he didn’t become less of a human being because of being vulnerable. People should be able to talk about their feelings without being ridiculed. Things are different now. The vast majority of the population seems unfazed by most of it, unless it hits close to home. Other people’s misfortunes seem trivial depending on media coverage and what else is going on in the world. In 2022, people talk in extremes. Even their adjectives are fantastical. They’ve been hypnotized by the cellular devices in their pockets, like the snake charmer’s pungi. Thankfully we won’t have a posthumous Jonathan Facka release on the horizon. Instead, he’ll be able to create something new that he can breathe this experience into. For this, I am thankful.
Whether it’s real or not, time is everything. Especially how much there is left, and how much has been used. How much of it has been wasted, and on what?
When you visit your doctor, you don’t expect to be told there’s a Yugoslav MRUD buried in your front yard. But if they do tell you that, what next? It may inspire you to start thinking about next steps, and in what direction you must take them. Just depends on what you want to accomplish with the time left. You don’t need a landmine to figure it out. Anything can happen. Jonathan Facka is alive.
Sometimes a bridge will collapse.