Until I played it for her a few days ago, Joanna had ever heard “Break Ya Spine.” Compared to other songs on this blog, it is one that few people have heard, performed by a group that relatively few people have heard of (though they once did a jingle for a local credit union that still has the commercial on its website).

The song was performed by the Flying Spiders, a “hip-hop orchestra” headed by Isamu Jordan — a multi-talented friend of mine (and probably of virtually everyone else who ever met him) who apparently killed himself last week, leaving behind his wife and two young sons.

I first met “Som” when he registered for a class that I taught at Washington State University years ago. A scheduling conflict prompted him to drop it after one day. Even then he already wrote for the Spokesman-Review, and did so as a staff reporter for years before becaming a victim of seemingly endless cuts that turned a very good newspaper into a shrunken shadow of its former self.

After being laid off, Isamu wrote on a freelance basis for the Spokesman-Review and sometimes the weekly Inlander. He knew more about the Spokane music scene than perhaps anyone else, even being quoted by other writers when he wasn’t writing the stories himself.

Last year he began advising the student radio station at the university where I now teach. Because I’ve advised the student newspaper for years, he and I got together over coffee to chat about student media. I’m glad I got to know him a bit better, but sorry that I didn’t know the apparent pain hidden by a man who invariably struck me as cheerful, kind, fun-loving and gentle.

“Break Ya Spine” would belong on the blog even if Isamu hadn’t left us, because it’s about a city that Joanna and I have come to love. Much of the video was filmed near our downtown church. Writer Jess Walter (godfather to Som’s sons) and a lot of other local folks make appearances.

Isamu’s death is another reminder that many of our friends and neighbors suffer in silence. Sometimes we take what they offer, but fail to give enough back. More importantly, it’s a sign that life is often too damn short. And of course that’s one of the reasons for this blog in the first place.

Sorry, I can’t find a link to the lyrics of “Break Ya Spine,” but the video is below:

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