In The Pipeline:

I'm sitting here trying to make sense and write this column about what I witnessed last week — the two services I attended for Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, drummer (who wrote and sang) for the Huntington Beach-based band Avenged Sevenfold.

If you saw the column I wrote a few months back about Joe and Barbara Sullivan, Jimmy's parents, you'll remember that this tight-knit family knew early that the little boy banging on toys in the tub was destined for something percussive — but as the member of a spectacularly popular band?

“The Rev” tragically passed away at 28 the week before last, and while nobody is quite sure what happened, it really doesn't matter — what's important is that a family here misses their son (and brother).

Joe and Barbara Sullivan want to address the fans soon, and they will. For now, not as a columnist but as a friend, I asked their permission to convey the power of what I witnessed at the services, and they said it was OK. But as I sit here, it's hard to know where to begin.

This lovely family (including Jimmy's sisters Kelly and Katie) was visible at the services not just gracefully tending to the assembled flock, but on the several scrapbook photo boards at the church featuring hundreds of family photos. Vacations, camping trips, birthdays, ball games, Jimmy playing one of his first sets of drums — they all grew up right before our eyes.

So how do you begin to write of the vastness of this loss the family is feeling? I can tell you that as friends and family paid tribute to The Rev at the rosary service the night before the funeral, it was powerful, heartfelt and real — just like The Rev himself. The packed church was treated to stories from pals, relatives and his first drum teacher, who spoke of the young boy who understood and executed polyrhythmic theory in a matter of weeks.

Grade-school buddies recalled the happy-go-lucky athlete who became a real-life rock star but never forget where he came from. The four remaining members of Avenged Sevenfold entered together and then rose together to address the crowd. Tearfully, these young men, wives and girlfriends by their side, shared their love of their bandmate.

Finally, The Rev's dad, Joe Sullivan, spoke about his son, honoring him with an eloquent speech on how much he learned from his boy — and how it will affect his life going forward. There was pain in the room, but it was trumped by joy and love generated by The Rev, whom many felt comfortable, justifiably, in calling their best friend.

The funeral the next day was an equally dramatic, beautiful event. In addition to the hundreds of family and friends gathered (including Jimmy's fiancée, Leana), there were several bands in attendance, including members of Buckcherry and My Chemical Romance. Flowers, cymbals and drum heads signed by legendary bands were delivered — representing the love and respect among the band's brethren.

Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Brian Haner, a.k.a. Synyster Gates, delivered a soaring eulogy with focus and class. You look at him and the other young men in the band, M. Shadows, Zacky Vengeance and Johnny Christ, and wonder what they must be feeling — but in their eyes, you see the pain of their loss.

I will tell you here that besides their music, what I love about Avenged Sevenfold is that they choose to remain part of Huntington Beach. They could easily have left after hitting it big, but they didn't. They bought homes here, they're known around town, they hire their buddies as crew; they're good guys. Rock stars? Whatever. They're hard-working, successful young men who got where they are because they're very good at what they do, and the city is better for having them here.

Back to the Sullivan family. As they clung together at the church and at the cemetery, surrounded by hundreds of mourners, it reminded one that the son they gave the world affected many lives — young lives. As I struggled trying to write this column, an e-mail arrived.

It was from a young woman in Omaha, Neb., Rachel Lee. She's a 22-year-old librarian who loves Avenged Sevenfold.

Her note read in part, “I specifically wanted to thank you for humanizing the drummer and his family, giving a sense of what those of us who have looked up at their stage and sung their lyrics, begged for their autographs, have only sensed at a distance — that at the end of the night their loved ones back in Huntington Beach are truly their family and their home. While the fandom has suffered a great loss, we dearly wish to express that they are not alone in their grief and there are a lot of us out there who wish we could do something to ease the pain of Jimmy's passing. Tonight, a candlelight vigil is being planned in a number of cities in his memory, fans gathering together to talk and laugh and remember The Rev.”

She went on to tell me about a scrapbook project in honor of Jimmy being headed by a young woman in Florida, Victoria Deroy, who also wrote to express her sorrow over Jimmy's loss, and her plan to help keep his memory alive.

“Avenged Sevenfold saved my life, and from the moment I heard of Jimmy's death, I felt as though my entire world had fallen apart,” she wrote. “I wanted to comfort the men that I had grown to know and love through their music, DVDs and live performances. I sent out over 20 messages to fan pages and tried to get several of my friends involved and the end result was over 190 messages from fans all over the world. We received prayers, notes and stories, even from people who had known Jimmy personally. I am currently in the process of hand-crafting the scrapbook and will send it out as soon as I am finished.”

Losses like this will never be easy for me to process, make sense of and write about, but the words of these fans brought some clarity. Jimmy's loss is being felt by millions all around the world — especially by a family and a band of brothers here in Huntington Beach.

If you haven't listened to Avenged Sevenfold, I recommend you do. It's raw, passionate music played with skill, soul and unbridled fury. My 16-year-old son, Charlie, adores this band, so we have had the benefit of hearing them constantly — as I write this, their song “Critical Acclaim” plays loudly, and proudly, behind me.

Listen to the music, listen to the magic, and by all means, listen to the backbeat thunder. There's no better way to honor the Sullivan family — after all, that's their boy on the drums.


CHRIS EPTING is the author of 14 books, including the new “Huntington Beach Then & Now.” You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com .

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