John Freeman Gill
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IN NOAH'S ROOM
In Noahs Room

In the early hours of Saturday, July 29, on his 21st birthday, something broke or deflated or just gave out inside of Noah Simring.

After apparently staying up all night in his room, he made his bed carefully, changed out of the special pair of Lucky jeans a friend had given him, and put on old clothes. He then tried to leave the apartment where he lived with his parents, Ruth and Jim Simring, in a drab brick co-op on Third Avenue and 24th Street.

His parents, concerned by his irritable manner, prevented him from leaving until he agreed to let his father go along. The pair took the elevator to the roof, where Noah often went to smoke cigarettes. As his father pleaded with him to explain what was wrong, Noah suddenly said, "That's it; I'm out of here," and vaulted over the wall at the roof's edge.

His body landed in a rear courtyard, 19 stories below. His father called 911, and the police arrived on the scene before the family.

"It just seems like he made a mistake," his father said a few weeks later, his voice breaking. "And the only one that was permanent, that we couldn't help him with."

At a service held two days later at Riverside Memorial Chapel on the Upper West Side and attended by more than 350 people, a cousin read a poem that Noah wrote last December. The poem seemed to articulate the pain that Noah sometimes felt on sleepless nights when he was alone with his thoughts in his narrow ninth-floor room:

In Noahs Room

They can see inside the open blinds,
and while it is calming to be behind the window covers,
I long for a traveler to point up here,
Wave to whoever doesn't know, and
Tell them.
Tell them I am awake in a room open to the winter. ...
How days with open windows never end.

In his mother's view, that description of her son's room was, at least in part, literal. "He's always been extremely lonely," she said. "It's how he lived his life."

Suicide is well known as a leading cause of death among young people. What distinguishes Noah's short life is the considerable body of work that he created in an art form, music, that for him was a more natural means of communication than language. And what distinguishes his death is the determination of those who mourn him to preserve that music, and in so doing to allow his creations to outlive his final act of self-destruction.

Noah Simring was a shy and introspective young man with dark brown hair, contemplative blue eyes and an expectant smile. Although he often sat on the periphery of conversations, when he got going on a subject he felt passionate about, like music, he spoke with great intensity.

Starting early in his life, Noah had battled a darkly melancholy streak, and in the 10th grade he was given a diagnosis of depression, an illness his maternal grandmother had suffered from and one that for Noah seemed to worsen after high school.

In the summer of 2005, after he dropped out of the University of Vermont, his mental state deteriorated markedly, and he later began to hear voices. ("They're criticizing me," he confided to his older sister, Mia.) In the last months of his life, according to his mother, he was seeing a psychiatrist twice a week and was being treated with antidepressant, anti-anxiety and antipsychotic medications. He was also using cocaine, friends said.

Like many young people, Noah often spent long stretches in his bedroom, its door shut tight. On the outside of the door, in black marker, he had scrawled the words "Do Not Disturb — No Exceptions" alongside a metal clock face with no hands and a friend's drawing of a three-eyed monster hanging by the neck with its tongue lolling out.

But Noah, a born artist who was forever creating things — a picture of a vase of flowers painted with food coloring, a one-act play written on a paper plate, a suite of classical piano pieces about insects — also did something in his room that most young people don't. He recorded hours and hours of music.

An ardent audiophile, he eschewed digital recordings in favor of the sonic nuance of vinyl. His room was crammed with analog recording equipment, including a professional reel-to-reel Revox tape recorder and an assortment of vintage microphones. A tangle of black cables filled the drawers of his desk and snaked across the floor.

As a high school student at Horace Mann, in Riverdale, one of the city's elite private schools, Noah formed a rock band, Ghostcloud, with a schoolmate named Aaron Bernstein, a close friend and a fellow explorer of sound.

The first time he heard Noah sing and play guitar, it felt, as Mr. Bernstein put it, like "a kind of charisma, something drawing you into a world too gentle to touch, only listen to." Over the next five years, the pair spent countless nights in Noah's room recording eclectic rock music, whose sound ranged from thrashing, dissonant guitar sessions to ethereal melodies accompanied by Noah's mournful, intimate vocals. The range, said Sara Gruenwald, a friend who sometimes listened to their sessions, "was like going from a thunderstorm to a kiss."

Although Ghostcloud never performed in public, the two musicians took their recordings seriously. In addition to making two independent vinyl albums, one recorded in Noah's room and the other in a Park Slope studio called Seaside Lounge, the pair recorded four other albums in Noah's room. They finished the painstaking work of cutting and sequencing the quarter-inch tape of their final album just three days before Noah died.

As his family and close friends have struggled with their anguish over his death, several of them have found something approaching solace in trying to preserve as much of Noah as possible by producing the remaining Ghostcloud albums — not digitally but on vinyl, as Noah would have wished.

"Anyone who knew Noah would say his life was music," said Jeremy Snyder, one of two drummers who performed on "High Wire by Night," Ghostcloud's studio album. "And if his life equaled music and the music's still here, then that's Noah, and there's plenty to go around."

The Landscape of His Room

While Noah was alive, his room was a place of private refuge. Beginning when he was a small child, he made visitors remove their shoes before entering, a ritual he never abandoned. Right up until the end, when his family wanted to communicate with him, he insisted that they slip a note under his door.

"He was volatile," said his father, Jim, a small, gentle man with brown eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard who, like his wife, is a dentist. "You could knock on his door and he'd let you in, or you could knock on his door and he'd make you feel terrible. You never knew what to expect."

In the hours after Noah's death, the father took off his shoes and went into his son's room. "I wanted to be in Noah's space," he explained. "I just kept looking at all the things in his room."

There was much to see. Its dominant features were electric guitars, amplifiers, speakers and the chaotic swirl of cables that choked the narrow space between his monumentally messy desk and his bed, which lay in a nook beneath dangling strands of crinkled cassette tape. The walls and cabinets, painted in a van Gogh palette of blue and green, were decorated with a photograph of the moon's surface, a circuit board from some disemboweled electronic machine, and surreal posters of the band the Residents, featuring a giant eyeball wearing a top hat.

Along the walls was an obsessively organized collection of hundreds of albums by musicians ranging from the indie band Sebadoh to the Russian composer Scriabin, one of whose complex sonatas Noah had been working all summer to learn on the piano.

In the poem read at his funeral service, Noah pleads from his room:

Please, wind, blow in my favor this night,
Move through like a ghost
Before the snow melts, a calming soot to ease this worry.
But the wind's answer blows through the city,
No! From uptown instead, and smoke fills the room
Swirling backwards with the gust
And it is steady and certain.
In, in, in, the room is frozen.

A Place of Anxiety, and Warmth

If Noah's room was at times an anxious, solitary space, on other occasions it was an environment that helped forge powerful musical and personal connections between people.

"The band was integral and completely indistinguishable from our friendship," said Mr. Bernstein, who went from Horace Mann to Grinnell College in Iowa. "Noah was always very open about the music. People would come over, and he'd say, 'Play with us.' And if they didn't play an instrument, he'd give them one."

One visitor who felt welcomed in this way was Ms. Gruenwald, a Grinnell student whom Noah met through Mr. Bernstein. "Noah had this presence that was really awe-inspiring," she said. "His whole room had this ambience of creativity, and it all seemed to be systematized by some secret Noah system."

A week before Noah's death, Ms. Gruenwald visited his room for the last time, and he insisted that she jam with him and Mr. Bernstein by singing and performing on an antique mandolin — which she had no clue how to play. Afterward, Noah turned to her and said with piercing directness, "You have a beautiful voice." Although she had sung as a child, she had lost the nerve to sing years earlier. But Noah's encouragement inspired her to join a band as a singer. "I am completely in debt to Noah," she said. "He gave me my voice back."

In the weeks before Noah's death, Ms. Gruenwald found three identical antique keys, and to express the kinship she felt with the two Ghostcloud guitarists, she gave a key to each of them. Noah's still sits on his desk.

Nearby are shelves displaying dozens of antique cars, which Noah collected avidly as a child. It was while he was playing with one of these cars as a 2-year-old that his parents had an early epiphany about how unusual their son's mind was.

On more than one occasion, his mother recalled, he compulsively pushed a toy car forward and back over and over, fixing his gaze on a speck of dirt on one wheel. But just when she and her husband began to grow concerned, Noah announced that the front wheel was slightly smaller than the back wheel, so for every eight revolutions the front wheel made, the back wheel made seven. "Then we realized, he's beyond us," the mother recalled. "Way beyond us."

He retained this exploratory turn of mind throughout his years at Horace Mann, where he excelled at math. "He did not want to accept some easy formula, but loved exploring his own solutions, and sometimes they were very ingenious," recalled Rick Somma, who taught Noah 10th-grade algebra. "When he saw something, he saw it uniquely."

From a young age, Noah also showed a talent for music. Starting at age 8, he took second place three years in a row at the Cultural Heritage Competitions, a metropolitan-area piano competition at Queens College.

"He understood music when he was 8 or 9 that 15- and 16-year-olds didn't understand," said Alicia Jonas, his childhood piano teacher. But he could never learn to sight-read properly. "He had the brilliance, and also the weakness," Mrs. Jonas said.

After graduating from Horace Mann in 2003, he attended Wesleyan University and then the University of Vermont, where he lived in Chabad House, a Jewish student center, and adopted the rigorous religious rituals of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. But at both schools he had trouble settling in and making friends.

Last year, after his sophomore year, he dropped out of school and moved back home. At his mother's urging, he began taking classes at the New School. He also resumed the piano lessons he had stopped at age 12; in addition to learning to play Scriabin, he began composing his own classical pieces, including a sonata and a nocturne.

But in the eyes of some friends, he sometimes seemed burdened by a great weight of sadness. "He was very down because he saw beautiful things," said Jonah Bloch-Johnson, a friend from Horace Mann who studies music at Columbia, "and I think he couldn't quite get there sometimes."

Throughout the past year, while working at a Starbucks in Chelsea, Noah carried a musical composition notebook with him wherever he went and worked for hours on his sonata, either at the piano in his parents' living room, or on the subway.

"He wrote comments in the music almost like a poetic text that can be touched," said Mr. Bloch-Johnson, who has been sorting through Noah's unfinished compositions in the hope of editing them into works that he and others can perform as a memorial. In places where conventional composers typically write directions like "fortissimo," Mr. Bloch-Johnson discovered, Noah scribbled descriptive phrases like "sounds of night reconfigured," "warmth of sadness" and "descending stairs knowingly."

During his last year, Noah also weathered more than his share of emotional hardships. A young woman he was in love with broke up with him. In July 2005 his maternal grandmother, with whom he had been extremely close, died, and the experience of seeing her body in her apartment rattled him terribly; her funeral was on his 20th birthday. In addition, his mother, who developed ovarian cancer and was treated with chemotherapy starting when Noah was in 11th grade, suffered a recurrence of the disease last December and learned she would need further chemotherapy.

In Search of 'Luminosity'

Through it all, Noah continued to make music. In March, when Mr. Bernstein was home for spring break, the pair recorded marathon guitar sessions in Noah's room. Throughout July they worked with great intensity on their last two albums.

The evening of Wednesday, July 26, the two friends put the finishing touches on what was to be their final record, bringing it to a point at which it was all but ready to be handed over to a sound engineer. In the early morning hours, after Mr. Bernstein had gone home, Noah invited his father into his room and played him the tape of "Fountains of Rome," the first side of the album.

"It was sort of ethereal, and yet rich in texture and very depressed," Jim Simring recalled. "I said, 'I think it's pretty good,' and he said: 'This is what we've been working toward; this is what I created. This is the most depressed music I could make.' "

Just hours earlier, the music of Ghostcloud, and the experience of being with Noah in his room, had infused Mr. Bernstein with a feeling of elation.

While working on the album's second, more upbeat side, called "Luminosity," the two decided at the last minute to replace a slow, sad song with a livelier track. The effect, Mr. Bernstein said, was to give that side of the album a feeling of warmth and kindness. "It's luminous," he said, "and the experience of playing together was luminous, and that's why we called it 'Luminosity.' "

After the pair listened to the album, Noah turned to his friend and said, "This album is letting the world in; we're letting the world in now."

These words are among Mr. Bernstein's last memories of Noah. "I remember I was on his bed," he said, "and I just wanted to curl up and listen to it. I felt very calm and very safe."



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