Andy Warpigs (Michael Johnson) October 21, 1988 — May 30, 2021 Foto: Troy Farah
Today is October 21, here forever after Andy Warpigs Day — and Andy’s persistent sense of humor is what jumps to mind first. I once shoplifted a blonde wig from a thrift store by wearing it on my head as I paid for my things and walked out. Not the nicest thing to do, but I donated plenty of stuff to that store over the years and I was positive the clerk would’ve noticed my hair color suddenly changed, not to mention the fact that I was stoned and not suppressing my giggling, but the cashier didn’t even look at me and I walked right out, feeling like it was some hilarious joke. Anyway, don’t steal, whatever.
And Andy stole the wig from me. Or indefinitely borrowed is probably more accurate. And they wore it at almost every show they performed for months. It was hilarious how many people fell for it, how they would be surprised if Andy suddenly showed up without it.
Now I have that exact same wig hanging on a coat rack in my house. I have a lot of Andy’s stuff—art, books, some photos, a few instruments, some gear and clothes. Stuff I never would’ve asked for (I’d much rather have Andy around) or stuff I gave him that I never wanted back—like fentanyl test strips or an USB drive full of photos and music I gave them at my wedding.
I also have some of Andy’s ashes. It all reminds me off them and in a way, I feel with them and so grateful that I knew them. The first time we met was at an illegal house show in 2013 where they were playing ukulele covers of anime theme songs and my drunk friends kept annoying them with a giant ball of string.
Andy Warpigs wearing the stolen thrift store wig at a Halloween party at my house. Foto: Alecia Mander.
I’ve known plenty of people that have died, but none of them have affected me like Andy. Even though I should have written this eulogy months ago, it’s been a hard summer. I remember when I first learned how to write obituaries in journalism school. I penned some for all my friends (this was way before I knew Andy), which was morbid but fun. But actually writing one for someone you really knew that died… It’s very difficult.
Andy and I talked often about reviving PHXSUX.com, which had its last post in 2018 and it was by Andy, naturally. They always gave a shit about my projects, but when I moved from Arizona to California, PHXSUX and DeLunula.com kinda died. But we would often talk about reviving them and maybe that will still happen, who knows.
Art by Andy Warpigs for a PHX SUX show at The Trunk Space.
So yeah, this eulogy is ‘late’ or rather, right on time, like Andy was always on time in that wizard sense. They were very wizard-like. The first time we did ketamine together, it was like Andy pulled a magic trick getting their buddy to reluctantly dash out a line for us. And then we went to Long Wong’s where they played a set. A magic night.
Some my other favorite memories are when we ended up in Bisbee together and they took acid before playing a show in a bar that was crowded with Border Patrol agents. Or when Andy posed with Joe Arpaio, the dorky sheriff completely unaware how many times onstage they had cursed out the old racist and Maricopa County Police Department. The hardship of living in a sweltering wasteland like Phoenix was made easier by Andy.
Just a reminder that Joe Arpaio has very bad judgment. Foto: Unknown
I used to live down the street from the Trunk Space’s OG location. Andy used to come over on the way to shows to smoke weed and they’d tell me about the latest, coolest local bands, which was really helpful for me as a nascent music reporter for New Times. So many of my friends and favorite Arizona artists are people I met because of Andy.
The last time I saw Andy was Saturday, May 8th, 2021 at their dad’s place. They gave me the tour of the backyard and we discussed gardening. It reminded of the time when we filmed the music video for “Chili Pepper,” and Andy showed me the cannabis and chili pepper plants they’d grown using seeds they’d pocketed like a hamster.
Now I’ve spread some of Andy’s ashes in my own garden. It’s a weird thing, holding someone’s ashes. It’s crystalline and sandlike. When I saw the box they were in, I was amazed that a whole person could fit in there. I’ve spent so much time contemplating death and where we all end up lately, I could write a hundred thousand words on the topic.
My garden is nothing spectacular, just a few sprouts and some onions so far. But it felt so good to spread a few spoonfuls of Andy around, to talk to them while I did it, to know that Andy is with me in some way. I wish they’d been able to come out and see it.
I know some people might find that weird, spreading ashes like that. I kinda do myself, but it also helped. I also plan to grow some weed with some of their ashes as well. They’d get a huge kick out of that, I know it.
That last night together, I brought along my ukulele, which my brother had gotten me for my birthday in December. Andy was one of the first people I told about it and I’ve been playing every day for almost a year now. I’m still not the most musically inclined, but I enjoy playing and I think of Andy often while plucking at strings.
Well, that night, Andy pulled out his guitar and strummed a few chords while I transitioned from C to G notes. It sounded terrible, probably, and after about three minutes we were both bored, but even those few seconds playing together will always mean the world to me.
A polaroid I found in Andy's room. Foto: Unknown
We went to get beer and outside the Circle K, a kid asked me for a dollar. I gave him three (I’m so generous) and I asked if he also wanted some naloxone, an overdose reversal drug that I always carry with me. This kid was so grateful as I told him how to use it, with Andy right there next to me. He asked me, Do you … fuck around? I said no, flatly. I haven’t touched opioids in eight years. I just want people who need naloxone to have it.
I didn’t even fucking think to ask Andy if they had naloxone. I knew they’d just been out of rehab, meaning that they were at an elevated risk of overdose. But I didn’t even think to ask. I guess I just assumed they did. This whole scene at the gas station — me being so generous (sarcasm) to an absolute stranger but not even thinking to ask my best friend if they needed the same — filled me with so much shame and guilt for weeks after learning Andy would overdose. I hated myself, I blamed myself.
I helped clean as much of Andy’s house as I could. It’s a very strange thing going through the possessions of someone who is dead. But I found plenty of naloxone. Of course Andy had it. I also found an envelope full of fentanyl testing strips that I had personally mailed to them when the pandemic started and they told me they were smoking fentanyl pills. When I found the strips, I immediately broke down into tears.
Andy’s death made me scream and wail against everything I believe about harm reduction. What was the fucking point, I seethed, if they’re dead anyway? But then it dawned on me that harm reduction could have been what helped kept them alive as long as they were.
Judgment, stigma, tough love… All of that would’ve just pushed Andy away. The isolation alone could have killed them far sooner than street narcotics. I’m not saying I kept Andy alive, but I do hope that I made it abundantly clear that I wanted them to stick around as long as possible. It doesn’t always work, however. Andy knew that — one of their good friends Rick Hill of Sad Kid overdosed just a few weeks prior — and I know that. Sometimes you just have to accept that.
Andy at my wedding. Foto: Unknown
Andy used to call me while high on the phone. I loved it, even if I wasn’t always great at paying attention. I’d rather they talk to me than fall out while alone. I would never judge them or anyone for the drugs they used, because while methamphetamine and fentanyl are what killed Andy, they also kept him alive.
A duality of drug use is that it is often self-medication. Andy was nursing so much trauma and physical pain. The drugs kept them from suicide, something they made explicit to me. They helped them cope. They also killed him. This, to me, is more of a failing of our healthcare and criminal justice systems than it is a story about addiction.
Later, while drinking Four Peaks, Andy and I were talking about their dad, who was murdered about a year prior. I had a disposable wedding camera that comes with pre-printed sayings on the frames, like “Our Special Day” or whatever. Andy took one of me that came with “Love & Happiness.” I took one of Andy that came with “A Celebration of Love.” They said they’d let their beard go and looked like Gaddafi. I said Saddam Hussein.
Disposable camera photos.
Something about that moment felt out of time. Like on some level I knew before it was even developed that would be the last image I ever took of Andy. But how could I? I assume I’m just projecting on the past. Such a strange hallucination that warps upon each recollection. I can’t make a feeling make sense, I can only feel it.
I had some MDMA with me, which Andy immediately sampled. They’d been snorting Adderall all night and we were also drinking and smoking Fruit Medley-flavored cannabis, but I didn’t take any Molly or amphetamine because I was already tired and had to check out of my airbnb the next morning.
For so long, I have wished I could return to May 8th and take drugs with Andy one last time. Screw getting enough sleep. Andy would’ve told me to get so fucking high that we could be the first in the morning to tell the Phoenix sunrise ‘Fuck you’ before it roasted us again. But they didn’t insist.
Instead, I went back to the shitty renovated apartment that was serving as a makeshift hotel. I didn’t sleep anyway because the AC was rattling like a dying cat all night. I was too tired to stay in Arizona any longer, my wife called to say the dog was sick (it was fine as soon as I got back), so I cancelled plans to go to Jerome with my dad and drove home to California. I cried for no discernible reason that I could think of while listening to Pop Food by Jack Stauber. It made no sense. It had been a rough weekend. But I was so glad that I got to see Andy.
Andy Warpigs outside Bisbee. Foto: Troy Farah
In the first 48 hours after learning that Andy had died on May 30th, my brain was like a slime mold trying to solve a maze. If you don’t know what a slime mold is picture this gross, sponge-yellow ooze. And if you put a food source, like sugar, in the center of a maze, the slime mold can solve the puzzle. Its tendrils will hit every wall and dead end, retracting until it reaches the finish line and it gets the tasty snack.
And that’s what my brain was like. It kept trying to solve this problem. Andy is dead. Well, no, that’s fucking impossible because… And my neurons would fire and worm their way through my brain and hit a wall. Over and over again. And as it did this, it would trigger memory after memory after memory. And it hurt so much, but it also felt so fucking good.
It was just a cascade of love and friendship. Andy was so authentic and giving. But each time, my brain kept hitting walls. Andy is dead. There is no solution to this puzzle. I can’t speak for all of you, but if you knew Andy I assume your brains have been doing something similar to what I’ve just described. All this neuronal firing and hitting walls.
This is literally the brain rewiring itself. There is this concept in neuroscience called plasticity and all this reshaping is called trauma. Trauma is a word our society shuns except for the most serious things like war or surviving a natural disaster or something, but the truth is, or my understanding of it anyway, is that trauma is actually a really common thing. It’s only an unhealthy thing if it isn’t fully integrated. And that can sometimes take years to fully process.
When we talk about PTSD, we’re generally talking about trauma that’s especially bad, getting in the way of someone’s life and folks need help for that and they should get that without stigma or shame. But in general, regular old trauma is something we all need. It’s actually beneficial.
The collective trauma that we’ve gone through is telling us something and that’s how important Andy was to us. Just … wow.
It’s part of the process and the only way out is through. Only one way. So if you’re feeling sadness, feel sadness. If you’re feeling anger, feel anger. If you’re feeling joy … You get the idea. That’s what Andy was about. Humor and fun and laughter and joy. They brought together so many people, I know many of you through him. They’ve brought us together once more and will forever.
I have actually felt so much joy this past summer, joy from knowing Andy, joy from all the times we had together. How dare I ask for more time from then when they already gave so much? But all that joy is whisked together with profound loss and sadness and the whole thing makes me dizzy all the time. You don’t often feel just one emotion at a time. At least I don’t.
Andy on the night I met him circa 2014.
I gotta address one thing. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say this and Andy wouldn’t be themselves if I didn’t mention this. And that is that it is easy to blame the drugs in this situation. I know a lot of people are tempted to lay all this on substance use.
But if you’re going to blame fentanyl for Andy’s death, be sure to factor in all the other data points that also contributed: poverty, stigma, racism, lack of access to healthcare, living in the police state that is Arizona, etc. I mean, if you don’t believe me, go back to their music. It’s all there.
And Andy loved drugs. And that is actually wonderful. If they loved exotic snakes, and a pit viper stung them in the neck, I don’t think we’d be blaming all the snakes in the world and burning down all the jungles. If Andy loved motorcycles and crashed… Same deal. But they loved drugs and there is absolutely, 100 percent nothing wrong with that. Drugs alter consciousness and Andy was one of the most cerebral, conscious people I’ve ever met.
Oh, but drugs are different, you might say. They’re illegal… Yeah, well I just want to point out that the law isn’t really that great a barometer of morality, if you haven’t noticed. 60 years ago or something, it would have been illegal for Andy’s mom and dad to get married.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not glamorizing drugs. There are obviously risks. And it would be absolutely impolite for me not to point out those risks and offer a few tips on how to reduce them:
Never use alone. Use in shifts, so that if you fall out, someone can revive the other. Carry naloxone. If you need it, talk to me, or contact Shot In The Dark, (sitdaz.org) an amazing organization out here in Arizona that can get you some for free. Andy played several benefit shows for Shot In The Dark and loved the work they do and they’d want me to be sharing this information, I think.
The people at Shot In The Dark and Sonoran Prevention Works and other organizations have been working so hard for years to legalize syringe access and fentanyl test strips, which Gov. Ducey just signed into law in late May. Congratulations, Arizona, you just entered into the 21st Century a little bit. Other states, other countries, have had these laws for literally decades and they save fucking lives. Bottom line.
But we have a long way to go until we have safe supply. In some countries, like Canada and the U.K., they actually prescribe heroin or Dilaudid to people with opioid addiction. That sounds absolutely fucking crazy, I know, but it works and there’s a ton of research to back it up. It’s much, much safer than illicit fentanyl, that’s for sure.
Andy wearing the wig while performing circa 2015. Foto: Troy Farah
When you’re fresh out of rehab or jail, you are at increased risk for overdose. So start S L O W. Snort it, taste it, smoke it, only a little bit, before you inject it. That shot you took a month ago is going to be ten times stronger — or a hundred times stronger — than what your body can handle if you’ve been sober for a while. Notice I used the word sober. That’s because the terms 'clean' and 'dirty' have no place in addiction recovery. None.
Andy was never dirty. If you’re using something illegal, neither are you. Being sober could never make someone better than a person who uses a drug. That is just ridiculous. And no one exhibited a Come As You Are attitude more than Andy. He gave pretty much everyone a shot, regardless of their history, their background, what mind-altering chemicals they liked, etc.
I’m not trying to preach at anyone, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. But I have to be real with people, like Andy was always real with me. It was the greatest gift to be their friend. Again, their humor was the best part of that. They knew how to laugh about the most fucked up shit: drugs, mental illness, death… I imagine now they’re laughing their ass off on the greatest high of all. Godspeed, my friend.
Troy Farah is the founder/EIC of PHX SUX. His website is troyfarah.com.