I heard the news via text message from my little brother, roughly around 9:45 a.m. last Tuesday morning. My fraternity brother, musical soulmate, and good friend, Josh Sanders-Wooley, had died. He was 26.
I'm 27 years old, and this is the first close friend of mine to pass away. It's gut-wrenching. Swoo and I's friendship existed on a unique level, in that we always seemed to be on the same wavelength. We saw eye-to-eye on almost everything, and we shared similar experiences. When I was holing up in Knoxville last April, back when I thought I would be residing in Knoxville permanently, I spent a week on Swoo's couch in his tiny apartment on the UT campus. I had several other good friends, pledge brothers, who I'd lived with before and who would have just as easily put me up. But I asked Swoo because I thought he would've been the most understanding and the person who would have most enjoyed my company for that brief period. I'm glad that I made that decision.
Let's backtrack. Swoo pledged my fraternity during the Fall of 2006, when he was a freshman and I was a sophomore. Swoo was a shaggy-haired, tomato-complexioned redhead from Brentwood who stood out like a sore thumb in a crowd. As a fraternity pledge, he definitely didn't look the part. But he had the attitude. He was his own person, and carried himself with a self-confidence and swagger that was all his own. I was a brother living in the house at that point, which meant that I regularly abused him, that is, until I learned what a huge music fan he was.
I met Swoo when I was 19. Eight years later, I can say definitively that he's the only person I've ever met that had better taste in music than me. I introduced him to Talking Heads when he was pledging (all the pledges had these little black books that brothers had to sign, and the pledges would have to memorize each and every page of the book. I wrote down a lyric from "Girlfriend is Better" in Swoo's book). Swoo was an encyclopedia, a low-key, ever-churning machine of music knowledge that had heard every band, pop musician, hip-hop artist, you name it, and was able to distill the values and virtues of the artist perfectly and on command. Over the last 8 years, there were countless times that I came to Swoo with an obscure artist that I was prepared to introduce to him, certain that this was something he had not yet discovered, ready to blow his mind, only to find out that he had not only heard the artist before, but knew their entire discography, biography, and true merit as an artist. This literally happened over a dozen times, without exaggeration. When I finally broke through in October 2012, introducing him to Japandroids, I was so floored I felt like I deserved a medal or something. Swoo just knew music.
As a writer right now, I feel lost. How do I explain the depths of Swoo’s intellect, his charisma, his caring for his fellow man? He had soul. He used to crush me in rap battles. He was one of the half dozen guys in my 130 man frat I could intelligently talk politics with. When he was on his own, isolated from the rest of his crew, in Little Rock, and I was in the same position in Pittsburgh, we would spend hours on the phone conversating. Keeping each other company. Again, on the same level.
Swoo and I were a little different in that he tended to be less inclined to “toe the frat line” as far as keeping up with Joneses. Swoo didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Or maybe he did know, he just didn’t know how to execute it. He was still in the process of figuring it out when he died. I was rooting for him, because I felt that I had, in some way, sold out, committing myself to a life of repaying student loan debts and working for the man. It’s where I am now. Swoo was more creative than me, maybe he could have figured it out had he not passed.
I can't overstate how charismatic Swoo was, by the way. He was a guy everybody loved. Girls, guys, little children, dogs and fucking cats. Selfless, sensational. Swoo’s persona was part of his appeal. He had an energy all his own. At times less a human being than a sheer force of nature, Swoo seemed preternaturally able to channel his own psychic turbulence and unleash it onto whoever he was around. Whether we were pulling an all-nighter studying together or rocking out late night, he could be counted on to be on the next level, and bring you there with him. It made him special, it made him not just unique, but one of a kind.
I will never meet another individual like Swoo in my lifetime, and that is unfortunate. However, I am so thankful for the time we did share on this Earth together. Last week, right after he passed, I spent a lot of time on the phone with people who also knew him closely , my brother, several of my college friends and fraternity brothers, and we had a blast sharing Swoo stories, remembering what an amazing person he was. I know now what people mean about running the gamut of emotions following the loss of someone close to you. I try my best not to be sad about Swoo's passing, though there are times when I can't help it. He wouldn't want that. I'm not sure what happens to you after you pass on, but I hope he knows how much he meant to me, and so many others. These are the 10 songs that will always make me think of my boy.
Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down. Interpol.
Incredibly, Swoo and I both shared the same, all-time favorite album: Turn on the Bright Lights. Recognizing this, my Junior Year of college, I felt like we had both joined some kind of special club within our circle of friends on campus. We were probably the only two guys in the frat who knew who Interpol were, let alone both held the band’s incredible debut as our all-time favorite album. My junior year, Swoo and I became notorious for, during house parties, taking over a room in the Pike House (whichever one had the loudest speakers, typically) and blaring selected tracks from this album. My brother shared with me a great story last week about one time, after I had moved on to law school, that Swoo did the same thing during a packed dance party and, knowing my brother's affinity for the album as well, pointed to him going, "Boods loves it!" On a sadder note, Swoo's lovely dog, who I spent some good quality time with the last time I saw him, is named after this song. I can never listen to this album the same way again.
One of my favorite memories of Swoo was my sophomore year Spring Break, when I ventured down to Panama City with some of the freshman guys in his pledge class. I can vividly recall the Diesel holding down the court in his villa. Once I entered, he wouldn’t let me leave until he had blared at least 15 new rap songs for me and spent a solid half hour explaining the brilliance of Malice and Pusha T to me as the part raged on around us.
This also seems like a good time to note that Swoo, no joke, was a phenomenal freestyle rapper. Dating back to my freshman year of college, I had occasionally taken on others in freestyle rap battles, just for fun of course, and usually decimated everyone I came across. Not so with the Diesel, who, towards the end of my senior year, absolutely humiliated me in a rap battle at a bar in front of tons of our friends. When my buddy Cody called me about Swoo's passing, this is one of the first things he brought up. Swoo's superior musical abilities weren't always a good thing for me.
Transmission. Joy Division.
Swoo singlehandedly validated the existence of ringback tones to me by introducing me to this track, inadvertently, during Winter Break my Senior year. One minute I’m making an innocuous phone call to my boy to figure out some plans for the night and the next thing I know I’m fist pumping to a track I’ve never even heard in my parents’ living room. “Transmission” is a lifetime Top 5 track for me, and I have Swoo to thank for that.
Warm Ridin’. Diarrhea Planet.
Truly difficult to put into words the vastness, the ENORMITY, of the experience of this listening to this song for the first time in Swoo’s apartment at about 3 am one Friday night in September of 2012. I was back in town for the weekend, having to do a Character and Fitness Interview for my Bar Exam admission, and I had opted to stay with who else but our boy. After a night out drinking, we returned to his apartment for some late night jamming. “Warm Ridin’” was one of the first songs he put on and holy mother of god. We were jumping around his apartment, belligerent, something primal unleashed within us. I became a Planeteer, a follower of the band featuring some of Swoo’s best friends from childhood, in an instant, and the band kept us close ever since, as we shared breathless anticipation of the group’s next album. Swoo was a constant attendee of their shows, which are legendary, and it will always be one of my great regrets I never got to see them with him.
93 til Infinity. Souls of Mischief.
Swoo wasn’t always trying to impress me with his music selections. One of the last nights I spent with him, when I was shacking up at his apartment in Knoxville for a couple days last April, we were preparing for a night out and he was blaring this classic as he hopped in the shower. I had heard of the track, but was not privy to its excellence until Swoo’s introduction. When I proceeded to make the move to Florida immediately thereafter, I rode around enjoying the palm trees, warm ocean breeze, and new world I had entered bumping some Souls of Mischief and appreciating the Diesel for his perfect taste.
As Your Ghost Takes Flight. Saves the Day.
Swoo was a master of many genres, but his knowledge of Emo was just untouchable. Now, I had loved Saves the Day since Sophomore year of college, but missing in my catalog was this track, one of the band’s finest. Upon finding this out, a confounded Swoo immediately demanded that I bump that shit immediately. I had just moved down to Florida, and after being berated via text for a few minutes, I obliged. One of the big tracks that helped my transition to Fort Lauderdale and the Emo song that will always make me think of Swoo.
Fuckin Problems. A$AP Rocky.
One of Swoo’s best traits was that he was an equal opportunity music lover. Fucking loved everything and was on top of all the good new shit light years before everything else. See: Fuckin’ Problems, which Swoo was drunkenly raving about to me one night in the fall of 2012 as he bitched about this traitorous chick he had just started dating and informed me that he had busted out the perfect new rap jam at her party to call her out for being a shitty human being. Yes, weeks before anyone else would be blasting this soon-inescapable song, there was Swoo educating minds and getting back at his girl by blaring this track at a party full of blown-away undergrads who were lucky enough to be in the presence of the Diesel unleashed.
Heavy Days. JEFF The Brotherhood.
Swoo had introduced me to Nashville punk legends JEFF the Brotherhood a few years before the Spring of 2013, and I spent the latter half of my law school career being a fan of the group. But the game changed when he first bumped “Heavy Days” for me, during one of my last days staying with him before my move to Florida. “Heavy Days” is one of the quintessential punk songs, off one of the quintessential punk albums, of the rejuvenated Nashville rock scene, and it applied perfectly to my move down to Florida. “We’re catching some rays, we’re gonna go down to the Beach. Sometimes it’s nice to get away, it’s gonna be a heavy day.” Hell right. JtB was total Swoo music, and I band I completely adopted because of his introduction. Listening to "Heavy Days" is like hearing the musical embodiment of Swoo. The song's slow-burn buildup, perfect sense of timing and execution, primal rawness, and lyrical homages to friendship and partying with friends are all total Swoo. Throw in the fact that Swoo is friends with the guys from JtB, who hail from his hometown, and this is Swoo as a four-minute Dirty South punk anthem. I still listen to this album every day here in Fort Lauderdale, and the memory of my boy is always there.
The Nights of Wine and Roses. Japandroids.
A special song in my relationship with Swoo for a number of reasons. First, because Japandroids and Celebration Rock were the first and only great rock band and album (aside from Talking Heads when he was pledging Freshman year) that I introduced Swoo to that he absolutely fell in love with. This was like finding the Holy Grail for me, that night of the jam session in September 2012, when I stood dumbfounded as he told me, no, he had never listened to Japandroids. I proceeded to bump this, the opening track off Celebration Rock. "The Nights of Wine and Roses" is a tune that perfectly encapsulated our friendship, which had been predicated on hard partying with friends in our college days, but had also developed into a deep mutual trust and bond between one another. Swoo was blown away, enamored with the track. That was worth a lot to me, being able to get him into some great new music. Repaying the favor, finally. Only like a thousand more of these scenarios and we could have been even.
A Pillar of Salt. The Thermals.
The number one track that Swoo and I would jam together. Along with our buddy Paul “The People’s Champ” Mercer, we would bust out this 2-minute cry of freedom, love, and rebellion in my room at the Pike House sophomore year with total abandon. Over the intervening years, whenever a late night jam session with Swoo and I would ensue, we would return to this track. "A Pillar of Salt" is a song about the relentless desire for a better world, a better of life. An acknowledgement of one's failings and the system around you, but more importantly, the unwavering will and drive to make life better for oneself and the ones you love. To "wipe a pillar of salt." This will always be the anthem for my boy. Swoo, you didn't think you were special, sir. You knew everybody was. This one's for you.
R.I.P. Josh Sanders-Wooley 1987-2014.Interpol Clipse Joy Division Diarrhea Planet Souls of Mischief Saves the Day A$AP Rocky JEFF the Brotherhood Japandroids The Thermals