Friday, August 28, 2009

Friendship. Of All Things.

Breath is difficult. Not because I am thousands of feet above the level of the sea. Not because I am getting older. It is because my brain finds it difficult to spare the energy needed to tell my lungs to fill with air. I can feel the computer of my mind going into overdrive as it struggles to process the eternity of beauty before me. Stone upon stone, the wonder builds up into mountains. Mountain upon mountain, the grandeur forms canyons. Above it all, the blue sky unites the shouts of color below, bringing them together into a hymn of joy at wonder of life. Finally my brain can take it no longer and I stare dumbstruck, mouth gaping, drained of thought – a wanderer who can no longer find his way. Above me I hear a raven caw. Perhaps it cackles in anticipation of a meal. Ravens have seen this phenomenon before – a silly creature standing in the full sun as its skin roasts and the air sucks away every bit of moisture – nature’s jerky machine, predating Ron Popeil by several eons. But the ravens and I are not alone.

Before me on the ground Adam paints. Adam Weinstein. Musician. Painter. Schizophrenic. Alcoholic. Drug addict. Many terms have been used to describe Adam just as they have been used to describe me. Today both of us can add a new label – the label of friend.

Adam paints on a board in the dirt. His canvas is taped to the board, his tubes of paint are strewn all around him. He uses the plastic bottom from a recyclable grocery bag for a palette. Colors fly onto the canvas. He groans with frustration as the mountain air and sun dry the acrylic almost before it leaves his brush. He ends up painting with both fingers and brush. The painting reaches a point that many would call beauty.

“There. I probably should leave it. It is good as it is.”

Adam pushes beyond into a place that he finds upsetting.


He waters down a brush and swathes the entire canvas. Brown and beige shades from the water fill the sky, mountain and canyon.

“So you’re going to use the canvas for another painting?”

“No. I have to fix it.”

I watch patiently. Filming him as he works.

Out of the chaos a new form takes shape. More color. More contrast. More passion - until a new image lifts Adam’s heart and mine as I watch his act of beauty and creation. From somewhere beyond us and yet right here within each of us creativity, nature – you chose a name – find a path of rebirth – a reshaping of something in our own image to find harmony.

Can I remake my life as Adam remakes the painting? Perhaps all of us labeled as mentally ill, handicapped, or simply misfit – perhaps all of us period – must occasionally find a way to restore our beauty. Thankfully, this day I need not do it alone. I travel to do a favor for a friend whose body is dead but whose memory lives on within me and in the hearts of his other friends. I travel with a new friend. Today I will call and talk to other friends. And even more. Raven, stone, canyon and sky – these also give me the strength of friendship – they may dry and tear my flesh but I do not fear this. I do not seek it, but I do not fear it. To fear death is to deny that I, the raven, and my friends are united by bonds that extend from the stars to the quantum particles that unite us all. Who am I to deny this unity? Others may call it by other names but I today I will call it the friendship of all things. Today I have enough hope from this friendship to fix my painting a little - to capture just a bit more of the wonder that surrounds me. Thank you my friends. Thank you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Steven's Trip West

Today begins the second full day of our journey west to carry out part of Steven Bock's final wishes. It feels weird to write Steven Bock - I only do it for those who have not read yesterday's post. It looks like Ben and Brenda have set up a MySpace tribut site for Steven at:

Check it out if you want to know more about Steven and listen to some of his music. It is great to see it. When I get back to Iowa City it may be time to look into scheduling some sort of memorial. Maybe Billy, Brenda and Ben will be interested in helping me coordinate it. Hope so.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Miss You Steve

Your name is Steven. I always called you Steve. I never asked if it bothered you. If you minded you were too kind to say. I will call you Steven forever now – now that it doesn’t matter. It is just too hard to call you Steve anymore. Steve is alive forever. Today I start a journey to California and I will be taking Steven Bock with me one last time.

Your life was a full one. You actually were a rock star – not just an imaginary dream or a drunken tale – but an actual, honest to God Rock Star. If times had been different I might have written about your journey to the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and your days in the California sun playing with most of the names people read about in Rolling Stone. But times were what they were and now I write this as you sit in Rock and Roll Heaven.

You made me laugh. We laughed as we shared stories about the 60’s and 70’s and what it was like for me to dream of being a rock star and for you to actually become one. We giggled like young girls as we gossiped about our friends and family - telling tales and exaggerating faults to create humor to hold back the darkness that waited just beyond our laughter.

You dyed your hair red. We were getting ready for one last tour, the Where’s Steve? tour. We spent hours at music stores talking about different types of guitars, amps and something you called heads. I tried to follow, but your decades of experience let you run through the terms too fast for me to keep up. It was okay. Watching your face while you talked was enough. I donated the amp and head we bought to Uptown Bill’s. New musicians will play it there. I will tell them your story, letting them know that the amp they play through once was played by Steven Bock of Truth and Janey, Steven Bock of Nowhere Fast, Steven Bock my friend.

You made a music video. You and Brenda recorded a song for David and me while Joe recorded it. I can watch it whenever I want to see you sing again. But I will have to wait a while. I will have to wait and see how I feel in a few months. Right now it is still too close to when I heard your voice and saw your smile. Your death still is too bitter.

You talked openly of death. I admired your bravery for choosing how your life would end. We weren’t sure of what exactly happens after death. We thought maybe it is just a change in vibration like changing keys on a guitar. I did make a promise. Wherever you go, if it is possible I will look you up. You can count on it.