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Former Washington City Paper music critic Rickey Wright is dead. Wright passed away at 4:31 p.m. on February 19 in Seattle after suffering from a series of small strokes. At the time of his death, he was working on a book about John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Wright was probably one of the most prolific talents the Washington City Paper has ever had perhaps on par with Jenkins, and the great, beloved Joel S. I never met Wright but I was around when he was around in the mid-to-late ’90s. I marveled at the fact that he could write on just about any band or genre and not appear to sweat it. (Most of us sweat it).
Wright’s prose was effortless and to the point. He didn’t mess around with silly metaphors. Nor did he make you feel stupid (he never loaded his pieces with arcane references to deep cuts, alternate Replacements b-sides, etc.). He just wrote and wrote.
“He was a save-your-ass kind of writer,” recalls former Washington City Paper Arts Editor Glenn Dixon. “If someone didn’t come through, and there were constantly people who didn’t come through, Rickey would do the job. He’d write it well. He’d get it in on time—-always. He was never without ideas and he could cover any kind of music. I can’t tell you how rare that is. I’m really sorry.”
Wright penned pieces on everything from Travolta to Ben Lee to all of pop music in 1997 to Metallica and Soundgarden to R.E.M. to Charles Mingus to Johnny Cash to Led Zep to Curtis Mayfield and Millie Jackson to Luna and Teenage Fanclub to Wesley Willis to British ska to all of ’90s rock to G. Love to Boston to the Shangri-Las to the Replacements. Wright’s final posting on his Facebook page was a list of his 12 favorite Beatles covers; he included two remakes of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
Idolator had this to say about Wright’s passing:
“Wright was an editor for Amazon for some time (that job brought him to Seattle), and his work appeared in publications like USA Today, the Village Voice, Blender, Harp, and the Seattle Weekly. He also won the 1999 Rhino Music Aptitude Test, a fact that seems somewhat trivial at first glance, but if you’ve actually seen the test or some of the people who have failed it miserably, you realize what a testament to his musical knowledge that accolade really is.”
“Rickey passed away this afternoon at 4:31. Last week he’d had a stroke—apparently more than one, all small, over a period of time—and went to the hospital for treatment. He had surgery and underwent another stroke on the table; he spent most of his final week in a coma. Our friend Rachel and I visited him yesterday. It was not as awful as I’d feared it might be: he still looked like himself, which was encouraging even if everyone knew he wasn’t going to make it. It’s hard not to second-guess how much of this I should be saying, mainly because Rickey was the kind of person who deserves whatever honor you can give him, especially in passing. I’ve seldom known a kinder person, or a better listener, or anyone more enthusiastic about music or film or whatever—and even better, his enthusiasm was catching. When I’m excited about something I yell without meaning to, or just become obnoxious about it. Rickey never did that. He didn’t have to.”
If you’d like to read more of Wright in his own words, you can check out his blog.
Wright’s last blog post had been a hopeful one. It is dated Feb. 4. It was about Obama. He titled it “I love my president.” This is what he had to say He uses the post to print a quote from Obama:
“In the past few days, I’ve heard criticisms that this [stimulus] plan is somehow wanting, and these criticisms echo the very same failed economic theories that led us into this crisis in the first place . . . I reject those theories. And so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change.”
There is an obit from his former employer the Virginian-Pilot:
“‘He had quite a following when he was here and was influential in the local music scene,’ said former Pilot writer Earl Swift. ‘I’ve never known anyone with a more encyclopedic knowledge of music.'”
There is still lots more from his friends and fellow critics. Here’s a really personal recollection of Wright (I’m just quoting a small portion; you should really read the entire entry):
“Rickey used to literally rock and roll. He never stopped moving. Either his leg was always tapping or he’d rock back and forth in his chair like a baby trying to comfort himself. He had a repertoire of postures. Always leaning forward with his hand on his thigh, fingers pointed in and elbow pointed out. He used his hands when he talked, flipping his palms upward in a gesture of offering.
Rickey always looked cool. He was a rock critic and looked the part. He always had a good haircut. He always wore the cool black ankle boots with the pointed toes. He knew how to wear a suit. He walked on his toes a bit which sort of accentuated his little belly. He always had just the right rock ‘n’ roll button on his bag or his jacket.
Rickey loved his cats, Chet and Kettle. When Chet was sick, he went through tremendous lengths and expense to try to keep him alive. When Kettle ran away, he consulted a pet psychic to find her, and found her. He used to talk about what a good soul Chet had and how you could see it in the little cat’s big eyes….
Rickey and I only ever talked about two things: music and love. Our last conversation was about the latter. It occurred around the beginning of January….”
And finally, a message from Wright’s aunt. She had sent out an e-mail to his friends breaking the news of his death. She writes:
“This loss is tragic. Fortunately, Rickey was able to pursue and achieve his dreams. His interest in music was evident from a very early age and has always continued, unabated. His presence in so many lives has been uniquely meaningful and has brought joy to many.
I believe sincerely that we should celebrate his life. Rickey would like that. So, I’m going to turn on some music and think of Rickey and smile.
Take care. Deborah (Rickey’s aunt)”