Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 30, 2007

"Beat Angels": Further Thoughts and Comments on Theresa and Jeremy

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:55 pm

Some tv show is playing Rickie Lee Jones’ ravishingly beautiful love song “Stewart’s Coat” over its final moments. I used to play that song over and over again, incessantly. It may be one of the most unbearably beautiful love songs I know–except maybe that other Rickie Lee Jones song–“Beat Angels”–on the same album (Flying Cowboys I think, or is it called Rodeo Girls? I can’t find it ready to hand). It reminds me that in some ways this is a tragic love story more (I think) than a murder mystery. or a tragic love story and a suicide mystery. But writing about Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake and the death of two people who seemed so much in love is nigh unto unbearable.

I thought maybe I’d exerpt in the main body of this blog some of the (mainly anonymous) comments that help paint a portrait of Theresa:

“She called self-destructiveness juvenile, petty, and dumb, and said it’s better to point one’s guns outward, and that doesn’t sound much like a suicidal mind…”

On the other hand:

“Theresa Duncan’s death should be assumed a suicide. She left a suicide note and evidence gathered in her apartment indicates that she overdosed on Tylenol PM. It is not unusual for the OME to investigate a death such as this with toxicology tests that take time
“What is surprising is that the police in New Jersey are not getting around to performing a DNA identification on the body that was found by a fisherman and thought to be Jeremy Blake’s. If they are treating Theresa’s death as worthy of criminal investigation, why are they not pursuing Jeremy’s with the same rigor?
“A comparison of these related deaths indicates an inconsistency in Medical Examiner procedures from state to state.”

The Tylenol PM detail is one that puzzles. Is it really possible? Asdie from toxicology questions it seems like such a uncharacteristically inelegant choice, not that any such choice is elegant.

And she was elegant as in her choice of literary reference as another commenter points out:

“One thing I noticed, however, is that I think Theresa’s last blog entry is on July 10th, the day she supposedly committed suicide. Accompanied by photos of a woman wearing a mask and a grey suit under the headline “Storytelling on the Staircase”, with “A Magic Story” typed very small in between the two photos of the woman (as if intended as a subliminal message between two frames of film), Ms. Duncan has only this quote by Reynolds Price:

“‘A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens–second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day’s events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths….’

“Ultimately it is the terrible loss of two insightful and creative souls. The reports are as mysterious as they are unbelievable and sad. I am still hoping it is all somehow a hoax.”

Here’s another more critical commenter:

“Below is an excerpt from Theresa Duncan’s blog, which may well point to the reason for her suicide. I find her idea that the older generation (the baby boomers) needs to be swept aside to make room for the young to be pretty appalling; it’s certainly not becoming of a beautiful spirit. A provocative idea, but deeply flawed and downright mean. Yet it appears she was true to her ideas.

“‘Younger people were indeed born to kick my pigtailed ass, and if our terminally ailing democratic culture is swept along on their own sexy, slender thighed demands for freedom and money and sex and art and music that are all their own, then whoopeee!'”

I’d like to believe this wild theory, at least in the sense it implies that one of them is still alive:

“I find myself fascinated by this case, and particularly by Theresa Duncan’s beautiful prose, as well. I am inclined to think that this is a double suicide, but something that has stuck out to me to suggest otherwise is the fact that Theresa was making a film in NYC about a rock star who disappeared (was kidnapped by teenage girls), and whose fame only increased after his disappearance. Something about that echoes in the Jeremy Blake disappearance. What do you think? What is that eerie coincidence about?”

The implication is that Jeremy faked his death, I guess, and although I’ve yet to hear of any DNA verificationthat the body found off New Jersey was his, I tend to doubt an elaborate ruse.

And here’s an insight into Theresa’s youth from an ex who is also mystified that someone like her could kill herself:

“First, thanks for your curiosity and honesty in all this. I have more than a passing interest in the deaths of Theresa and Jeremy. I dated Theresa for about a year (before she met Jeremy), and in fact, I just learned from my sister that Jeremy Blake is the same Jeremy that was her best friend when they were both at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Knowing these two as we both did then, it makes little sense that this happened. Though it was so many years ago, the worst I could say about Theresa is that she was ungrounded, and unfocused; but certainly not depressed. She had far too much creative energy and a never ending quest to get to the truth of the world around her. I think in meeting Jeremy she indeed found her grounding and her focus and her place in the bigger picture. So then what was it that pushed her over the edge/ Did she find a “truth” she could reconcile with her own being? Did she lose Jeremy and her grounding? I have no idea? I have not seen her in some time, but we have many old friends in common. many of whom she met through me back when we were dating. I have not really had the chance to speak to many of these people, but if I do I’ll pass along whatever information might be of interest to you as you dig for her final truth. Thanks for this.”

And thanks to all of you for your contributions and I’m grateful for anyone else who can pass along “whatever information might be of interest.”

I think of the two of them now, to return to Rickie Lee Jones, as “Beat Angels”.

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4 Comments »

  1. Thank you Ron for your coverage. They just confirmed the body that was found in NJ was indeed Jeremy Blake. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/31/AR2007073101041.html
    I am just an eerily fascinated on-looker. This is the first time I’ve read that Theresa Duncan used Tylonol PM to commit suicide. Something about that seems so… weak (for lack of a better word) for someone who was such an intelligent artist. Maybe she didn’t actually mean for it to work? Maybe it’s wrong to think she may have thought of her own suicide in an artistic way… but when you are an artist of her calibre, don’t you naturally think of how things will be perceived? She must’ve thought about how she would do it. Why with Tylenol PM? Anyway, I’ll continue to look to your posts for insights. Great job.

    Comment by Adrienne — July 31, 2007 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  2. Both the Rickie Lee Jones songs you mention are from the 1993 “Traffic from Paradise” album. From the same album, and as bookends to this sad story, check out the two songs RLJ wrote with Leo Kottke: “Running from Mercy”, and “The Albatross”.

    Comment by Alex Reed — August 1, 2007 @ 11:32 pm | Reply

  3. My LA Weekly piece is up:

    The Tragedy of Theresa Duncan

    Fact sifted from fiction.

    Tylenol PM is easy to get, and while it causes liver failure which kills you, you’re asleep. Taken with enough alcohol, it’ll work. She had a bowl of pills.

    Comment by Kate Coe — August 2, 2007 @ 10:58 am | Reply

  4. Ron:

    Have you seen this article by LA culture journalist Kate Coe at http://www.laweekly.com/news/news/the-theresa-duncan-tragedy/16942/?page=1

    Kate claims to have known both Theresa and Jeremy very well when they lived in Venice, CA and that they were frequent party guests at her home. Her article opens up new windows on Theresa’s psyche and suggests that she was indeed very troubled, increasing so in the last several years. This was mostly hidden from view, but occasionally her paranoia surfaced on her Wit blog.

    Kate’s article doesn’t diminish any of the anguish or sense of loss that the deaths of these two very gifted, brilliant people have caused for so many, but it does begin to shed some light on why Theresa might have chosen to destroy herself. Apparently, the film “Alice Underground” that she claimed to have been working on for the last 2 years existed mostly in her imagination. There was a script, but little else …

    One sliver of light that I am able to collect from this tragic and thoroughly depressing story is the realization that a great, all-consuming love can still exist between two people. I understand Jeremy’s suicide as clearly as day – if I had been with such a charismatic, brilliantly talented and insightful woman like Theresa for 12 years, I would have done exactly what Jeremy did, without hesitation. The thought of living without her would have been unbearable, eliminating all fear of death.

    If Theresa’s suicide is harder to comprehend, I can only suggest that all great artists must decide when it is time for them to take their final bow and exit the stage for the last time. We may never understand why Theresa chose this particular time in her life, but we have to respect that this was not an impulsive act but something she had probably been considering for some time. Perhaps she wanted to leave while she was still at the pinnacle of her beauty and intellectual powers. In her suicide note to Jeremy, the police report states that she wrote that she “was at peace with her decision”. This suggests to me that she must have struggled with that decision mightily, for surely she would have known that Jeremy would be destroyed as well. And she seemed just as devoted to him as he was to her. Surely, no greater love can exist between two people than one that creates a bond so deep and pure it will transcend even death.

    There are not enough tears in the world for this tragedy, as moving and eternal now as the tale of Romeo and Juliet. As a lifelong atheist I have never believed that there is anything after death, but now, for the first time, I find myself truly hoping that I am wrong about this and that Theresa and Jeremy are together again in some other place, free from whatever torments drove her to end her life, and his.

    Still, I weep for them, and I want them back. I want them both back …..

    Jon Hill

    Posted from New York City

    Comment by Jon Hill — August 3, 2007 @ 5:42 pm | Reply


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