It was a cool, peaceful night in Western Broward, patchy clouds parting to reveal a deep, star-speckled sky. A gator looked on with reptilian detachment from the shallow bog bordering a dusty clearing on the edge of the Everglades. About 40 people, teens and 20-somethings mostly, gathered here last week to remember a recently departed friend. Joe Arthur, guitarist and creative force behind local metal favorites Osiris Rising, died in a car accident on I-95 early Sunday morning, January 22. He was 23 years old.
"Joe had an obsession with fire," his girlfriend, Casey, had told me earlier. "He loved medieval things. And he told me once if he ever died, he wanted to be burned on a pyre like in the Celtic days. Since that's illegal and nobody has the guts to do it, we're building him a fire, a very big fire. And we're just gonna stay there for most of the night and reminisce and pay tribute to his memory."
Upon the low wooden pyre was a photo of Joe, his soft features partially concealed behind a curtain of hair. Some of the wood had been gathered long ago by Joe himself. "He always had three or four logs in his car," Casey had said, "because he said you never know when you'll need wood to build a fire. That's the kind of character he was."
"Little Wing" played from a car stereo, and friends and family offered up personal items: CDs, photos, clothing, cans of Arizona green tea, Star Wars toys, a Michael Crichton novel, a microphone.
"When we first met, I bought a guitar because we started a band together," close friend Eric Weiner had said. "Then I realized I had no talent." Stained with a smear of Weiner's blood, that guitar went on the pyre too. Everyone stood in silence as Joe's brother Paul poured gasoline over everything. As Led Zeppelin's "Rain Song" rose into the darkness, a match was lit, and a brilliant wall of flame painted the night into day.
Joe Arthur started Osiris Rising almost four years ago with childhood friend Mike Ibarra singing, brother Paul on bass, and Brian "Vor" Vorisek on guitar. They gigged heavily across Broward, from the Factory to the Culture Room to Solid Sound, perfecting their dark, rhythmic metal sound and gaining a dedicated fanbase.
"Even though it started kind of falling apart at the end, there was a very prevalent reason why we were together this long," Vorisek said. "We felt honored to play together, to be together in this band. With Osiris, it was a good band, but we didn't ever plan anything out. It just kinda happened. What we did and how we sounded, that's just how we sounded."
"They always had a really close-knit dynamic," band photographer Ali Harris said. "They never left anyone after a show; they always stuck around. Even if they weren't playing, they were like a band. They didn't just come together to make music; they came together because of the whole feeling. That vibe is what made Osiris."
Joe was a natural, self-taught musician who mastered his instrument entirely on his own.
"His playing was almost unearthly," Vorisek told me. "It seemed like he was playing from somewhere else. The stuff he came up with you didn't hear other guitarists playing like that from around here."
Growing up in Western Broward and attending Coconut Creek High School, Joe accumulated a lot of friends and admirers over the years.
"Whatever he needed to be dedicated to, he was work, family, his friends, the band," Weiner said. "He's the type of guy that nobody disliked; he never held any grudges. In the ten years I've known him, I've only been mad at him once. He was supposed to help me move, and he never showed up. I tried to stay mad, and I couldn't."
"We all figure pretty largely into each other's lives," Vorisek said. "In a lot of ways, I feel like we were each other's future. We were all friends, and then we got older and ended up being in these bands together, trying to make it together."
"We're gonna remain close friends," Paul said. "But we'll never play in a band together again."
It was with some of those friends that Joe spent his last night out, playing pool, laughing, and having fun at a couple of local bars before heading home around 4 a.m. Casey got a phone call from Joe before he got in his car. "His words were slurred, and he probably had drunk more than he should've, and it was the night that it went wrong," she said. "People say he made one mistake and he doesn't deserve to die from it. But he made that mistake a lot. It just finally caught up with him."
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Eventually, a dramatic guitar solo one of Joe's mourned the pyre's fading flames, and the offerings wilted into an inscrutable, smoldering mass.
"That Star Wars ship, that was an original Boba Fett ship from like 1981," Paul told me in the darkness. "I had it hanging from the ceiling in my bedroom when I was a kid. Joe always wanted to play with it, but I never let him."
Joe finally got it and a sendoff befitting a warrior hero. Or a lifetime rock 'n' roller.
As the music shifted to the regal, roaring Viking metal of Amon Amarth, Weiner smiled, and told me the ceremony was just one detail off: "Joe would've wanted a bigger fire."