Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 28, 2006

Malachi Ritscher

Filed under: antiwar — louisproyect @ 8:22 pm

(An obituary written by Malachi Ritscher, who burned himself to death November 3rd on a Chicago expressway during morning rush-hour traffic to protest the war in Iraq. A handmade sign reading THOU SHALT NOT KILL was found by his remains.)

Painting by Malachi Ritscher

Chicago resident Malachi Ritscher passed away last (day of week), a (tragic, baffling, mundane) death at the age of (subtract 1954 from current year). He was the modern day version of a ‘renaissance man’, except instead of attaining success in several fields, he consistently failed, and didn’t really worry too much about it. For example, his boxing record in Golden Gloves. The eldest son of Richard C. Ritscher, a music educator, he collected and played many exotic instruments, without mastering any. Most recently, he had been playing a vintage Conn C-Melody saxophone that once belonged to free-spirit Hal Russell. Malachi was best known for his live concert recordings, mostly of local jazz groups who couldn’t afford expensive studios. His license plates said AKG C 414, after his favorite microphones. Upwards of fifty recordings were eventually released commercially, with some acclaim for their natural sound. His archive of live recordings he had documented exceeded 2000 shows. Mostly he was just a big fan.

Also he was a film photographer, with a picture of a peregrine falcon chick published in a local Audubon magazine, and related video footage shown on local television news. He wrote poetry that was not published, painted watercolors in a quirky naive style, and participated passionately in the anti-war and free speech movement. He was arrested at a protest on March 20, 2003 and spent the night in jail, then became a member of the pending class-action suit against the City of Chicago. Arrested again two years later, he successfully sued the City of Chicago for false arrest on 1st Amendment/free speech grounds. One of his proudest achievements was an ultra-searing hot sauce recipe, which he registered under the name ‘Undead Sauce – re-animate yourself!’ It was a blend of tropical peppers, which he grew indoors in 5-gallon buckets, and a few secret ingredients that gave it a unique flavor (pomegranate, pistachio, and cinnamon).

Born Mark David Ritscher in Dickinsen, North Dakota on January 13, 1954, he lived most of his life in the mid-west, ranging from small-town Madison, South Dakota to Chicago, where he moved in 1981, changing his first name to Malachi. As a child, he was intensely afraid of many things, especially heights; he spent the rest of his life trying to face his fears, without ever coming to terms with his fear of people. He dropped out of high school and married at the age of 17, a union that lasted almost 10 years. He became an ordained minister with the Missionaries of the New Truth in 1972, and had performed several weddings. He provided for his family with a variety of trade positions, eventually reaching Journeyman High-Voltage Technician status with the electric utility in Lincoln, Nebraska. He became a Licensed Stationary Engineer in 1987. He was a member of several unions throughout his career, including IBEW, IUOE, and SEIU. He was proud to be a dues-paying proletariat intellectual.

After getting divorced, he relocated to Chicago to work with friends in an art-rock band, which inevitably led to forming a trio called ‘wantnot’, recording and releasing a CD in 1990, with Malachi on bass and vocals, Mike Mansfield on guitar, and Janna Brooks on drums. The cover design received an award from the American Center for Design, which didn’t increase sales. He also designed skateboard decks, flyers, and t-shirts, with similar commercial results.

He was a collector of several things: books, records, meteorites, butterfly knives, keris, glass eyes, fossil tully monsters, microphones, medium-base lightbulbs, and instruments, especially snare drums. He was a man of strong contrasts, and fierce loyalties. There was a joy of life, which balanced a suspicious misanthropy. Endless pondering of existential gray areas could be interrupted by a totally spontaneous act: jumping in his car to drive downtown and participate in the Sears Tower stair-climb (2003). When he read Goethe’s words “Nowhere but in his own Montserrat will a man find happiness and peace”, his first thought was to find out where it is, and then book a flight there. He had memorized Pi to the 1101 decimal place, and would recite it at will. He could shave with a straight razor. He loved cinnamon rolls. He loved the smell of turpentine. He also loved motorcycles, which he wisely avoided. In the words of Stephen Wright, he was a ‘peripheral visionary’. His sense of humor was droll – he theorized that surprise and not tragedy was the most important element of comedy. His favorite joke was to walk into a room, sniff the air, and observe “it smells like snot in here”. His favorite word was ‘ominous’. His favorite two words were ‘Tahitian hiatus’. He always carried his passport with him.

He owned and maintained several web-sites: www.savagesound.com, www.unwinnablewar.net, www.killthepresident.net, www.warwhores.us; in addition he was preparing www.publicparkingparty.org, to promote protection of residents’ rights in Chicago.

A lover of literature, even more than music, he had always dreamed of being a writer. The handwritten manuscript of his ‘fictional autobiography’, titled “Farewell Tour”, was under consideration by publishers. It had a general theme of shared universal aloneness, and was controversial for seeming to endorse suicide after the age of fifty. His favorite classic authors were Proust and Shakespeare.

The metaphor for his life was winning the lottery, but losing the ticket. In the end, the loneliness was overwhelming. He was deeply appreciative for everything that had been given to him, but acutely aware that the greater the present, the higher the price. He was a member of Mensa, and Alcoholics Anonymous since 1990. For him, sobriety was virtually getting a second chance at life. He practiced a personal and private spirituality, seeking to connect across the illusion that separates us from each other. Reportedly, his last words were “rosebud… oops”.


  1. A sad document. I notice that Ritscher has a wikipedia entry:

    Comment by Scott — December 30, 2006 @ 9:56 am

  2. I really like the painting though.

    Comment by 10th Way — February 17, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

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