As further proof that life is deeply unfair, one of the greatest dancers and perhaps South Florida's most fascinating frontman of all time — a man who might have experienced riches and worldwide fame but who instead gave the gift of his presence to a select lucky few like a secret and very special treasure — died just after midnight today at age 38. Jason Budjinski suffered from primary sclerosing cholangitis and Crohn's disease.
Jason attended high school at Dreyfoos School of the Arts and college at Florida Atlantic University, He skateboarded and listened to garage and punk rock throughout his childhood. He began playing guitar as a teenager, and one of his early bands, the Mute-Ants, recorded and toured.
Jason worked here at the New Times newspaper from 2004 to 2008, starting as assistant calendar editor and moving over to music editor — a position he took reluctantly because he didn't want to ruin his love for music by turning it into work, and, as he once wrote, because he had "the urge to hijack the stage every time the band sucks."
Perhaps most memorably, he invented the persona Billy Boloby and played in a band as such. This is really where his genius was most evident.
He explained the genesis of this character in a 2013 piece:
I already had a general concept for my desired stage persona — equal parts Iggy Pop, James Brown, and Pee-wee Herman — I just needed a name. Having grown up watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse, I always loved the name of the ventriloquist dummy, Billy Baloney. So with a little phonetical engineering, Billy Boloby was born, sometime in early 2000... Boloby is not burdened by indecision, not worried about doing or saying the wrong thing or looking foolish. Because of that, he always happened to say and do the right thing.
Boloby shows, at venues like Respectable Street, Club M, and Dada, would feature low-budget, fascinating theatrical elements, often incorporating performance art and ridiculous themes, as in the George W. Bush days, when they faced down the "Axes of Evil" during a set. He was the opposite of a shoegazer, as he once explained in a "manifesto":
Performances never happen in a vacuum. The venue and the audience is every bit as important as the people on stage. Also consider the venue, the town, the other bands — even the date can be significant. To wit: One of my bands opened for the SuicideGirls burlesque tour in Miami. The date of the show was Jan. 23, 2004, or 1/23/04 — or, in band-speak, “1, 2, 3, 4.” There was only one option I saw: a suicide cult that believed the world ends on that date. And so the band did, calling ourselves “Billy Boloby and the People’s Gate” (referencing the People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate). We kept the theatrics to a minimum, mostly at the end, when we handed out Kool-Aid, solicited money, and took a gulp after the last song (with the punch line that my drink wasn’t dosed, and after surviving I stole the other band members’ wallets and left). This wasn’t the most brilliant thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it made sense, was simple enough to execute without detracting from the music, and was loads of fun and a hell of a lot more interesting than if we had just gone up there and played Song 1, Song 2, Song 3, etc.
Here’s what I don’t get: Bands that do theatrical stuff are often berated for being “gimmicky,” regardless of the quality of their songs. Sure, there are some bands that really lack talent and make up for it with a wacky shtick. But many of the bands I’ve seen that put on a good show are as musically sound as their less inventive counterparts. And those that aren’t as talented usually turn up the crazy, and I end up enjoying them immensely. Bands should be applauded for going the extra mile, not ridiculed or scoffed at.
Jason was a gifted, reliable, and careful writer. Here is a trove of his columns, in which he used the pen name "Fats Pompano" and was a supporter of local bands and music venues. One of the coolest things about Jason was how he never spoke of moving away to New York or L.A., as though they were any better. He possessed an understated confidence and just made cool shit happen wherever he was. Eight months after starting it, he gave up the music editor gig, saying, "it was an awkward transition, going from being the guy on stage with the mic to the guy in the audience taking notes. So now, eight months later, Fats Pompano is putting down his reporter's pad for good so that I can get back to the way things used to be, back when the only questions I asked other bands were 'Can I borrow your cord?' and 'How come we're going on last?'"
Jason's friend John Letsch understood the electrifying feelings at those old shows, as he wrote recently on Facebook, "I read somewhere once something to the effect that, on any given night, there are tens of thousands of bands playing all across this great country of ours... and on any of those given nights, there are some that are on fire and, at that exact moment in time, the best band playing anywhere in the world on that particular night. That's how I felt when I saw you doing "Back in My Arms Again" or any number of your originals which were just as great."
For work, Jason took positions closer to his family, editing at the Town-Crier magazine and Wellington and Okeechobee magazines. He also started another band, Pots N Pans:
Two years ago, though, his health issues caused him to mostly be confined to his home.
He continued to blog and wrote occasional columns about his experience. One, about the importance of medical insurance, even for "Generation Invincible," was taken up by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz:
He was well enough to play a house party in 2012:
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Last week at his home, Jason was bedridden but still psyched to page through pictures of his old bands and friends. Thank you to everyone in the music scene who spat fireballs with vodka or came to see him play or threw a house party and gave him that joy.
Jason is survived by his mom, Maureen, and his father, Gary, of Greenacres, and his brother, Matt, of New York.
He asked not to have a funeral but to have a celebration of life. We will share details as they become available.