“I hope you’ll find your own way when I’m not with you.”
The lyrics jump out to the listener. The sparse, haunting, discordant ballad, consisting only of Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan on piano, drums and vocal, fills the room — the same room where, last May, my teenage son and I visited with Joe and Barbara Sullivan, parents of the drummer from Avenged Sevenfold. We were there for a column I was writing about how proud the parents were of their son’s success.
The song continues, and it is stunning; introspective, moody — no formal lyrics for the most part. Instead, what appears to be a “guide vocal,” random words serving as placeholders for what will be written later. But the line appears again, slightly revised, “I think you’ll find your own way when I’m not with you.”
Here in the same room where, in January, I watched the band members comfort the family after Jimmy’s funeral.
The same room where a little boy named Jimmy Sullivan grew into a big drummer.
The song ends with, “I know you’ll find your own way when I’m not with you.”
These are some of the last words recorded by the Rev, just weeks before his death.
Barbara Sullivan wipes tears away from her eyes. We listen to some more music that Jimmy had been working on up until the end, in preparation for the new Avenged Sevenfold album. When the songs end, Joe Sullivan breaks the silence.
“He was really creating beautiful music, and I think the fans would be comforted by that,” he says.
The Sullivans are aware of the impact their late son had, not just on people here in Huntington Beach, but around the world. That’s why we’re here — because they want to reach out to the fans, to comfort and clarify, to give them an update. (My son is with me this evening as well, because he not only loves the band, he loves the Sullivans, too.)
“I was planning on waiting until the coroner’s results were in to talk about Jimmy — but realized that whatever the report has to say just really doesn’t matter,” Barbara tells me. “Now that a little time has passed, I am able to read some of the fan postings, and want to share a few details that might bring them comfort. The last few months of Jimmy’s life were good ones.
“Although Jimmy was never married (as is often erroneously reported), he had found his true best friend and soul mate, Leana. He had just had eye surgery that let him see without glasses. He called me one morning to tell me the story of not being able to find his glasses, wanting to know what time it was, realizing he could see the clock, and watching it for 10 minutes!
“Jimmy had just bought a condo and a new car, finally acknowledging that he was doing well as a musician. He had also spent a lot of time with his friends and family, especially over the holidays. Jimmy and Leana were Beauty and the Beast for Halloween, he sang Irish songs with the extended Sullivan family on Thanksgiving, and he asked for and received a ‘decorative chicken’ (crazy Jimmy randomness) for Christmas!”
Barbara shares a photo from this past Halloween, taken just several feet from where we sit this evening in the living room. It is a beautiful image of a vibrant couple.
And she continues. “Most important to him, Jimmy had just finished writing songs for Avenged Sevenfold’s new album — he even called one his ‘masterpiece.’ When he wrote songs, he would record tracks of his singing, playing the piano and drumming — then, when he played them for me, he would sing the orchestra or guitar parts that would be added later. I am thankful that I got to tell him how much I liked and admired his music.
“Jimmy wrote some really good songs. I was so proud of him, and I know that even though it will be very hard for them, the band will do a great job getting them recorded soon. Needless to say, these ‘all Jimmy’ recordings are almost impossible for me to listen to yet, but what a blessing to have them.”
Joe Sullivan adds, “We love what the fans have been saying. They’re actually teaching us things about Jimmy with their words and stories. These young people, all over the world, are a real community, and we appreciate all of their good thoughts. Also, we want fans to know how much we love the guys in the band. That brotherhood they have, they gave Jimmy a place to be himself, to create, to be The Rev. What an amazing group of young men — and women, and parents, too. The extended Avenged Sevenfold family is just incredible.”
As tough as it is to recount, Barbara also wants fans to be aware of some other things. “I want to share with the people who cared about him that Jimmy died peacefully, in his sleep,” she says. “No coroner’s report yet, but she did tell me that his heart just quietly stopped. I am thankful that he was home instead of on the road, that he was not alone, that he was on top of the world, that I got to spend a lot of time with him in the last few months, and that he will be remembered with a smile by so many.”
This past Christmas day, Jimmy told his mom he had a surprise for her. She asked what it was. He told her that the band’s album “City if Evil” had gone platinum. But she already knew this. What was the surprise? She was puzzled.
He passed away just several days later. Just days after that, the surprise arrived: Jimmy had ordered five customized copies of the platinum album, framed with the album cover art and inscribed to family members. One for Joe, one for Barbara, one for each of his two sisters and one for his brother-in-law. Looking at two of the framed pieces in the living room, it says a lot about the young man.
It was one final gesture that defined Joe and Barbara’s big-hearted, life-of-the-party, over-the-top kid who, though he may have been a successful drummer in a wildly popular band, never took the thrill for granted — and never missed an opportunity to share his excitement with his family.
I ask Barbara if I can mention the story for this column. “Oh, I think his fans would like to know about this. He loved those fans so much. And this is just another one of those things that made Jimmy, well — Jimmy.”
It made him Jimmy. And it made him “The Rev,” a rock and roll hero from Huntington Beach who, for many, will live on forever. Or rather, in a spelling his fans have embraced, “FoREVer.”
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 17 books, including the new “Huntington Beach Then & Now.” You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org .