I thought I’d write you one last letter since I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I guess this might be more about me and my feelings then you and what you meant to people, but I still have to give it a go.
I first heard of you as a guitarist for a band on the superb sampler The Master Tapes (re-issue, please) and as an extra you were the artist who did the cover work. I crossed paths with you at some point in the mid-eighties but I honestly don’t remember if it was a show or a party, in Bloomington or Indianapolis. I liked you right away though – you were a punk rock enthusiast with a wide range of interests, and you obviously didn’t have a dishonest bone in your body.
Later in the early nineties when I heard you had moved to Bloomington, I called you up and invited myself over. Do you know why? Because in your range of interests we overlapped (no doubt you covered more territory with your past-times) and I was delighted to talk to you about flying saucers, conspiracy theories, comic books, rock and roll, cryptozoology, religious quacks, con artists & crimminals, ancient civilizations, corrupt & hypocrital politicians, and on and on and on. You were a never ending fountain of knowledge on and even better you actually liked to listen.
Your true love was rock and roll, though, and you carried a torch in heart that never went out. The louder and crazier it was, the better. We traded stories of Iggy Pop (you owned his autobiography which you loaned me), Black Sabbath, Screamin’ Lord Sutch, the New York Dolls, Sam Hain, Lux Interior, the Circle Jerks, and on and on and on. Yep, yet again, you were a fountain of knowledge and a great listener.
I remember when you went through a messy romantic break up and you told me over the phone about how your ex-girlfriend had said she was going back to the house to get her stuff. “Listen,” you told her, “if you touch my stereo or my records I will have you arrested by the police.” Got it? Take my clothes, my cash, the food in the fridge – BUT LEAVE MY ROCK AND ROLL ALONE.
Remember when you told me about a Repellents gig in some city in the red light district? You pulled up to this dive surrounded by strip clubs and reeking of stale beer, urine, and cigarettes. The tiny hole in the wall joint was called The Punk Rock Club. “Boy, John, I knew then I had finally arrived,” you chortled.
Your house was owned by a slum lord who tried to keep your damage deposit, remember that? You took him to court and showed up with a collection of photographs taken with the move in date in the corner illustrating the condition of the place when you first walked in. “What kind of a racket are you running here?” the judge asked the slum lord. The judge handed you your money back. “You missed your calling, Mr. Bullock. You would have made a fine lawyer,” the judge said. Ha!
I remember this one time we went to Cedar Bluffs for a little outdoor recreation. After, um, some of Mother Nature’s special meditation techniques, we headed back and got promptly lost. We wandered the forest for an hour, walked through some painful “Skittle” grass, until we finally came upon the railroad track that led back to our car. Having some knowledge of how the sun sets in the west, I was mildly surprised when you promptly turned left and started walking in the opposite direction of our car. I just stood and watched you stroll until you were about a quarter-mile away – you didn’t even notice I wasn’t walking with you. When I hollered you did a classic double take before walking back. I called you Daniel Boone for a while after that.
I got to know a lot about you, man. Like how you stuck your dad’s car keys in an electric socket and melted them. “Man, he beat the hell out of me,” you ruefully said, though you were still smiling. How you had attended a Scientology seminar and the main speaker pulled you over afterwards and offered you a position. “A lot of money in it,” he said, but you were too honest for that. How you bought Fantastic Four #1 at the grocery store when it came out, and in fact you bought the first fifty issues. I was agog at that one, but you have to be a comic book collector to appreciate that.
You had a great sense of humor. Was somebody really hitting the skids? “One foot in the grave and another on a banana peel,” was your droll description. Remembering that one made me wince when I heard the bad news last week, but something tells me you’d still laugh.
I confess I took full advantage of your generosity during that period. I made cassettes of your record collection, I asked you to draw a logo for my band (For free! I still have it.) You never turned me down, man, not once. I never could match you and fully return all the kindness you showed me.
When it came time to for me to move to Austin, Texas, I got you a job at my old place of work. If you would have heard what I said about you to my boss, you’d blush.
Later when the Walking Ruins got back together in 2006 we rehearsed at your studio space. It was simply great to see you again, rock out in your presence, shoot the breeze with you after we were done playing.
Yeah, I called you about a month ago. I got your return message, then called again, but you never got back with me. I was going to pick your brain about some old school punk records I wanted to buy, and I trusted your opinion enough that I wanted to hear what you had to say about them.
Well, maybe I just wanted to hang out with you again. But going over classic punk albums was a good excuse. Too bad we never connected then. I was making plans to go to Methodist that weekend when I got the call from Marta. Buddy, to tell the truth, I cried. I cried because I never got the chance to say goodbye and because, selfishly, I’m going to miss having somebody indulge me in conversation.
I’m not qualified to talk about your musical career, or your family life, or your art. But as great as your skill was in those areas, do you know what you were best at? Being a friend.
I remember this one night at my house when this young kid got drunk and out of hand. While I was nervously wondering how to get things under control, you simply stood up, walked over to the kid, got his attention in a manner that was not politically correct, and then shook a large finger in his face. “Now you have to be nice from here on out. Okay?” The kid gulped and nodded yes, and you walked back to the couch and non-chalantly sat down. “Lumpy,” I said, “You are a man among men.”
Well, I’ll say it again, Lumpy. You were a man among men. Rest in peace.