Though Thomas Loconti, the street artist known as Plainwhite Tom, danced or mimed or wrote poetry for thousands of Chicagoans, I never saw him perform. We met only over the phone, when I interviewed him in 2012. Because he didn't own a cell phone for philosophical reasons, he had to borrow a friend's phone. He was my favorite kind of interviewee—warm, talkative, and insightful, supplying wonderfully specific details without being prompted. And then we never spoke again.
Tom died by suicide early Thursday morning at Navy Pier.
All of the cliches are true: I can't begin to know what prompted his decision. I wish he'd made a different one. I can only imagine the pain his friends and family are suffering right now.
His good friend Izidora Angel got in touch with me this morning to thank me for the profile and offer this: "Tom saw his life as a performance, for he was the consummate performer, and his death has become his last performance piece. It is sad and it is unfortunate, but he asked us to look at his choice not as a selfish, cowardly act, for he was neither of these things, but as an act of freeing his spirit from the confines of physicality; an act of spreading his energy infinitely into the universe. Here are his last words: 'I'm not doing this out of fear, guilt, shame, or depression. I'm doing this to finally put to rest the curse of my fathers. Also to burst embers of inspiration into a world greatly looking for it. Please be kinder to one another. Nicer . . . ya know. Thank you for every single silly second. I love you all.'"
And for whatever minuscule scrap of comfort they might offer, here are some excerpts from our conversation that didn't make it into print the first time:
"I'm a deeply personal person. I'm a very private person who will talk a lot about nothing. But to get me to actually open up about my life . . . just because I'm an extrovert doesn't mean that I give those things away very easy.
"There were a lot of things that happened to me in the military that were not the most just. I would point out, 'You're not supposed to do that according to the regulations,' and they were like, 'You're not supposed to read the regulations,' and I was like, 'Too bad, I did.'
"I don't need a phone. I can use the internet if I want to. I can use Gmail to send out text messages. And then I started to really watch the douchebaggery of Facebook. One day I was like 'I'm tired of it, people don't even know how to talk to each other anymore.' I was like, 'Why do I need these things? They're a distraction, they're draining me of my energy, and they're against who I am as a person.' So I just cut the cord.
"Love is everything. It's the only reason I do anything. At this point in my life, if I don't love it, it's just kind of like, 'Meh.' What I try to put into people's lives is: love yourself, and watch that grow out into your surroundings. Love is what it's always been about, and I think if more people could grasp that idea, this feeling of apathy that I come into contact with weekly would become less and less.
"Chicago, that's what it is for me. It's my one and only love. She is my everything. Sometimes I just take sack lunches, and I have special places I don't tell anybody about where I sit and we just talk. This city has given me sanctuary. I have midwest values through and through. I will always come back to Chicago. I will make my last stand in the Windy City. Plus the Bears, come on. How am I gonna go root for another football team?"