A letter to Chi Cheng

Jonah Matranga remembers the Deftones' late bassist, Chi Cheng

Chi Cheng, 1970-2013.

Chi Cheng, 1970-2013.

Jonah Matranga remembers the late Deftones' bassist Chi Cheng, who died April 13, as someone who was all at once, “so precise and so chaotic.”
Jonah Matranga is a Bay Area-based singer-songwriter and former frontman for the Sacramento band Far.

So, I was reading this big, heavy Jewish book (that sort of start always got your attention). I found this part where some minor prophet or another is ranting about how nothing is an opportunity or a challenge or a journey or a learning experience or a test or a trial—it’s all gifts. All of it. Of all the conversations I wish we’d had, just talking about that one page—that one beautiful, brazen rant—that’s the conversation I wish for most right now. I think you would have agreed. You loved a tough take on beauty. You were all about the glorious rant.

I think of what Robert Frost wrote: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” I think of you wrestling with ideas, wrestling with people you cared for until you were tangled in their limbs and hearts. You stuck with people.

I have no stories about where you are or aren’t. I have no idea what you saw when I was there. I just know what I saw. It was just the same as before that stupid fucking car crash. Your family and friends circulating—I could never really tell who was blood and who wasn’t, and I didn’t care. I just saw the same gorgeous gathering around you, Chi, Dai, all the names. We’d all be whispering to you, telling stories, thinking maybe with just the right touch or melody or exciting new treatment we’d find you again, lead you back, refusing to let go. Your mom, sweet sentinel, reminding me where your capability for tenacious, tireless love came from.

I’m not sure we really know what to do now. You gave such a focus to things. How were you so precise and so chaotic all at once? I thought about that so often when watching you play. Through all the furious twirling and screaming, snaggletooth and sweat, dirty dreadlocks stuck to your face, pasted on until they got shaken off. In the center of all that mess, these delicate, thoughtful lines, holding together everything around you. The guttural, gorgeous screams; primal, simple words with so much room for interpretation and space. Yours was the voice to make those words mean as much as they ever would. Whether they were intelligible or not, they got in. Incantations. There’s this other really dense book, The Spell Of The Sensuous, that I know you’d love tearing into and tearing apart. It says something about how in some old language, the word for song is also the word for magic.

So, when I offer my ideas about everything being gifts and trying to have this—your death—occur as a present somehow, I think a lot of people would hate that idea. I don’t think you’d be one of them, though. I think you’d dig into it the way you loved digging into any number of difficult ideas, finding the fertile bits in the toughest terrain.

I hate that you’re gone. I hate that your son won’t get more time with you. I hated seeing how tired and embattled the faces of all the people that loved you were getting. The truth of your absence is something that will never leave and never stop hurting. But if you could just see everyone! I feel the tears coming again—if you could just see everyone talking, singing, hugging, all looking at each other, finally, like we always should be looking at each other, but it’s not until someone like you is missing that we figure out what it is to be found.

Fuck, maybe that’s just me trying to make sense of it, making up stories after all. I don’t need it to be true. I can just keep remembering how true you were. As permanent in your presence as you are in your absence. I can’t honestly say that I think that about most of us. I aspire to your effortless acceptance, without even a hint of acquiescence. You were all about the paradox.

This isn’t going to end cleanly. You used your heart as well as I’ve ever seen a heart used. Suddenly, it stopped. Sweet, smart, ferocious Chi. Goodbye.