Music “Friends”

 

  • Candle In The Wind
  • Tiny Dancer
  • Philadelphia Flyer

Ask anyone to name their favorite Elton John single and these three tunes will probably place high on the list. One of the least likely choices would be  “Friends” – and by that I don’t mean the TV sitcom Friends but a song from the soundtrack from an “okay” 1971 British teen romance film by the same name that interested me more for the cover art than for the music or any message in the film.

..a 1970 song that  didn’t really show up on my radar until the winter of 1988

When my family and I returned to the Kenai Peninsula my  good friend (Eu)Gene Faa was working as a deejay for KCSY, a soft-rock AM radio station based in Soldotna. He had rich baritone on-air presence with a voice devoid of the reedy quality his voice had when I first met him in the winter of 1971 when we were assigned to the same study-hall table. He was cousin of one of my better friends, so I’d been vaguely aware of his existence, but it wasn’t until I noticed him drawing  historically accurate sketches of German panzers instead of doing his  homework that I realized that there just might be  common ground between the two of us.

He wasn’t  physically striking and was unfortunately overshadowed by two most definitely-striking  step-siblings.  Red-headed, slight of build and equipped with a slight lisp he seemed to fit more into the slightly-annoying sidekick role than the buddy category, but a buddy he most definitely became as we would intermittently bump into each other over the next couple of decades as I would come and go from the Peninsula and the Lower 48. Each time we came back in contact we’d share our good news and bad news – marriage, military service, divorce, discharge, new careers and so on.

In those pre-Internet days I’d listen to the radio while I worked in the studio, and while KCSY was a bit too middle-of-the-road for me Gene would make a special effort to come up with a more diverse playlist if he knew I was listening. I’d try to liven things up by calling up with a disguised voice and requesting some Led Zeppelin or Def Leppard, songs that the programming format would never allow. Gene would give me a mercy-laugh for my all-too-transparent attempts at foreign accents, but during one such call he replied, “ I can’t play “Stairway to Heaven” for you Dave, but I’ve got some early Elton John that’s a decent  substitute.”

…then he played Friends” and I liked it right away. Simple melody with a string accompaniment that joins in about half-way through the song – always a good thing for me. Uncluttered lyrics with a message about friendship that avoids getting overly emotional. I made a comment about it the next time I ran into him at the mall, and from then on he made a point of playing it just before his show as over each noon, and when he did I knew he was waving to me – a “shout out” in contemporary terms.

Gene left the station and the Peninsula around Christmas of 1988 and other than a letter or two in the mid-Nineties  I never heard from him again – other than to find out that he’d passed away from complications from diabetes.

In his book “Thank God for The Atomic Bomb” the legendary academic and literary curmudgeon Paul Fussell made the observation that other than the very famous no one is remembered more than about seventy-five years past their death and Eugene seems to have beat that mark by about fifty years. As I’ve been writing on this piece I have failed to find any kind of record of Gene – even his relatives have little to say about him.

I don’t like that.

Eugene Faa did not exactly set the world on fire. Most of his life he struggled with the diabetes than finally took him  –  also a factor in his divorce and the primary reason he was discharged from the Alaska National Guard.  Gene didn’t command any armies, he didn’t make a fortune on Wall Street and he never held an elected office – but he was a good friend to me, and that’s why I’m writing this today. I’m hoping that publishing this post will get his name saved to enough computers and cloud storage facilities to make sure he’s remembered long past Professor Fussell’s seventy-five-year mark.

Gene was my friend.

Eugene Faa

 

Friend Events!

It’s tough maintaining a social life when you’re stuck in a studio most of the time,  so it’s a real treat when an unexpected  “frent” (friend event) happens in my life. It’s even better when more than one of these “frents” happen in short order, which is exactly what came about this last month.

The first good news involves  Oscar Hokeah, a digital-age friend whom I’ve never physically met but who shares a love for accurately launching words in the same way  an expert marksman likes to hit the “ten-ring”. Oscar just got a book deal and while most writers write because word-crunching is woven into their DNA it’s always  nice to get some of that external validation1.

The other “frent” involves a buddy from years ago,  and by “years ago” I mean decades. Dave Doering was a fellow member of The Happy Valley Space Academy 2 a  loose-knit group of artists and fans living in the Provo-Orem area in the late 1980s. We’d meet once a month to socialize and share our work but Dave wasn’t above about stopping by during the month as well…and more importantly wasn’t above serving as an impromptu model when I needed reference material and the deadline was short.

Dave is a writer/podcaster interested in the fan/mundane interface and since the early 1980’s has been instrumental in both the establishment and conduct of a writer’s conference dubbed Life, The Universe and Everything. Dave and I lost contact when my family and I left Utah Valley in 1987 and I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from him during an otherwise dismal week.

Below is an example of a last-minute modeling job Dave sat in on:

 

COL 2.00002

2018: Pushing the Envelope

Much has been said and even more has been written about the “bulletproof” mindset of an eighteen-year old. Granted, there are variations in terminology ranging from “Hey y’all – look at this!” to the more basic “Hold my beer”, but ultimately it can all be traced back to the “It-can’t-happen-to-me” mindset that gives us fighter pilots and cage fighters.

I wish I could say age eventually corrects such dysfunctional thinking but even in my crippled state my inner paratrooper lurks, though at sixty-five living on the edge is more likely to involved hooking one too many plastic grocery bags through my fingers than flying through thunderstorm cells or diving without calculating decompression times before hand. Pushing the envelope usually involves handling actual envelopes while paying  bills rather than test pilots consulting performance charts and the limits indicted by lines on graphs (which is where the expression came from!)

In my case there is one situation when my ego has most definitely been checked at the door : when I first get up – or more precisely try to get up in the morning .  Morning is not my friend and when I first stir in the morning there is a fair amount of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and crying-like-a-hungry-puppy coming from the general direction of my over-sized papa-bear chair.

(I started to write “crying like a little girl” but that would be unfair as I wasn’t even close to being as stoic as a little girl would have been)

I keep telling myself that I can still win, that pushups and miles will defeat the disease-dragons I fight each day, but to be coldly honest there is a day coming when I won’t be able to ignore the pain and stand up.

A day coming when I won’t be able to take that next breath.

…but until that day arrives I will keep adding plastic bags to my grip on grocery day.

 

James Albert Smith (1933-2018)

Like so many other rites of passage, the whole idea of “talking trash” to peers didn’t occur to me until fifth grade at Woodland Park Elementary School, located in the wilds of deepest, darkest Spenard (Alaska). Central to the art of verbal dueling was developing a good defense, even if it was something as simple as “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”, when you were receiving fire, as in  “You were such an ugly baby your mom fed you with a slingshot”. I figured that the anxiety brought on by “words” would ease off as I got older but unfortunately there have always been statements that could definitely shake me up:

  1. “Surface winds on the DZ have dropped momentarily to light and variable.”
  2. I’m sure it’s just a mole.”
  3. “We have some questions about some of the deductions on your Schedule C.”
  4. “I’m going to raise my sons the same way I’ve watched you raise yours.”

That last comment was the most worrisome, and when my friend Delton spoke those words to me I slept poorly for a week, convinced that one or all of his boys would end up in an asylum or jail based on some faulty parenting technique he’d observed me practicing. I always wondered if Brother Smith’s chuckle-in-response was covering up a similar reaction when I made the same statement years ago.

That’s because no other man (including my own father) had as much influence on my growth as a parent as did James Albert Smith. He continued to laugh the idea off, maintaining that he’d never done anything that remarkable while raising his kids, but he never caught on to the fact that it wasn’t the things that he did, but the things that he didn’t do that made all the difference in the world.

He didn’t get a caribou

Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula I was surrounded by hard men – carpenters, mechanics, roustabouts and commercial fisherman who were veterans of World War 2 or the Korean conflict. A moose hunt  with them was more like combat reconnaissance patrol than a hunting trip. I couldn’t help but inwardly smirk as I watched Jim casually load up his boys on a fall morning in 1971, one rifle for the three of them and all of them in street shoes, however as I listened to them interact upon their return later that day I realized that the trip had less to do with steaks and more to do with forging bonds between a father and his sons, that he was spending more time teaching than hunting.

He couldn’t grow corn.

I witnessed Jim’s efforts at vegetable gardening over the course of three summers and it never ceased to amaze me that corn stalks always took up a  fair amount of space in his plot. It didn’t seem to matter that the growing season is too short, the soil too wet and daytime temperatures don’t stay warm enough for corn to thrive. It wasn’t until that third summer that I finally tumbled to the fact that his attempts had less to do with having fresh corn-on-the-cob for dinner and more to do with giving a little bit of Davis County ambiance to help his homesick sweetheart cope with the cold and dark  winters so far away from home.

He didn’t kick my fourth-point-of-contact

I have it on good authority that I can be somewhat of a dumb-a** at times, and I was in that mode of thinking when I once caused a great deal of distress for one of his children. At the time I was literally living on the other side of the continent and figured I was home free from any sort of parental retribution. I wasn’t prepared for the flinty stare he met me with when we finally did meet up in person two months later, a flinty stare which lasted all of twelve seconds before he broke into his trademark grin, slapped me on the shoulder and started quizzing me about “those fancy new graphic design classes you’ve been taking”.

It was truly amazing watching him in parental mode.  My own parents were firm believers in the percussive discipline school of child rearing and while my presence no doubt had a tempering effect on his conduct I was always impressed with the positive, low key manner with which he  counseled and corrected his kids…and when I told him that I was trying to adapt those traits into my own parenting style he just brushed off the statement and changed the topic of conversation to a short story he was working on.1

Despite time and distance the warmth never wavered – he was the only person I’ve ever known who had a grin that could be heard on the phone.  He was always interested in what I did, though to the very end he kept urging me to switch from design to copywriting2.  When I recently shared with him an illustration I created for The Friend his reaction was to tell me that my work was the best part of the magazine, a comment that meant more to me than all the other certificates and ribbons I’ve been awarded in my entire career.

I just hope when this life is over he’ll say the same thing about my parenting skills.

___________________________________________________________________________

Notes

  1. The plot involved father and son cobbling together a hovercraft out of the wreckage of a plane they’d crashed in.
  2. Writers ae usually paid better and are selected more often as supervisors

What I Look Like Now…updated

DRD2018

Taken earlier in the year. It’s amazing the way a person’s appearance can change with age – I remember watching a J. Edgar Hoover biopic miniseries years ago and taking issue with the way they used two different actors to portray him at different stages of life. Now I see current photos of friends from long ago and some of them don’t even look like the same person.

It’s hard to look at my own image and be subjective enough to make a determination. There have been some definite changes:

  • I’m a bit better-padded a lot more padded now.
  • My hairline has receded a bit
  • I finally got my front teeth fixed
  • I have that  big-a** scar to the left of my nose, a legacy of basal cell carcinoma

Things that are the same

  • My squint
  • My smile
  • I started going grey in my twenties so hair color can be a constant
  • …and while we’re talking about hair – it  could still scare a comb to death

Staying Grounded

I spent a good portion of the 1970s working as a roustabout for Chevron USA out at the Swanson River Oil Field on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. T.H. Auldridge was the gang foreman, and I give him as much credit as any other human being for anything I may have become or accomplished in my life. He fought across Europe as a tank destroyer commander during WWII, and despite the lack of a college education or any sort of management training, he was one of the best leaders and smartest men I have ever known.

He was Texas-born & bred and as such was prone to uttering “colorful” observations on life, most of which are not printable in this particular forum. Of the ones that were printable my favorite was “The next time you think you’re a big deal just try to give an order to another man’s dog”,

I’ve had that principle reinforced in my life countless times in every field of endeavor I have worked in – especially in my creative work. During all the years I worked as a freelance illustrator I took pride in my work, especially my 100+ game covers and the conceptual designs  I did for BattleTech, Traveller and most recently the Gun Kingdom books written by R. Scott Taylor. I look at those images as my signature work, but do you know what my most heavily published, wide-spread work is?

Kid’s Puzzles.

From 1998 to 2008 Lori and I created linework for a series of kid’s puzzles published by Patch Products. We would create black & white line images that in-house artists would scan/shade/color via Photoshop for use in puzzles sold through Wal-Mart.

Patch2008PondBW0006

That’s right – those 11”X17” kid’s puzzles that are bundled and shrink-wrapped eight-to-a-package? The ones displayed on the end-caps of the toy aisles.

Those.

That means that years from now when the gophers are bringing me the mail I won’t be remembered for BattleTech, or Star Trek licensed work or the fine art I create – I will be memorialized by insects, dinosaurs and cars.

…and as much as I’d like to think that my writing will make more of an impact that my art, I am jolted back to reality whenever I check stats on this page. It’s not the stories from my youth, the commentaries on music or reflections on life that get the most attention.  The single post that gets the most views – the one piece of writing that has been seen the most by people around the world.

Cardboard Batmobile.

Video Tour of the Not-so-new Studio

I’m still not totally skilled at handling multiple on-line venues. I have this blog, a Facebook page and a “Fans of The Art of David Deitrick” Facebook page that my good friend Scott Taylor instigated a couple of years back. I shell out $5.00 a month for a page on Freelanced.com and  I have a LinkedIn account but I do very little with it – their major selling point is “Where not Facebook” which doesn’t inspire much confidence in me.

My point? Not everything I post is pertinent to every one of these forums so I try to carefully pick and choose what goes where. Odds are what I post here will also go to my main Facebook page but not always to the “Fans of” page. That also means that sometimes material gets to the other pages…but not here. One example is a nice 180 degree video sweep that I made of my new studio that got to Facebook but not here.

 

This was taken a couple of weeks ago – since that time I’ve stored a little more stuff and added a printer/scanner, but for all intents and purposes this is my studio now …and it a the most “right” working space I’ve ever had.

 

Words and Images

For my whole life there’s been  this running gun battle between words and images.

 The ability to write and draw with an equal facility posed no problems in my youth but when it came time to declare a college major I went against my natural inclination and chose visual art instead of writing, I made that choice based on one very important fact: Distractions are not a problem when I make images. While I am painting I can also:

  • Listen to  music
  • Watch a video
  • Carry a conversation

On the other hand I have to be sitting in a monastery to write. Well, maybe not an actual monastery, but the place  has to be pin-drop quiet with no distractions whatsoever.

 Even more confusing?  When it comes  to painting I freely admit I am not stellar material. I’m a good draftsman, a good  sculptor and had I stumbled into  cut-paper sculpture earlier I’d be rich and famous, but I always knew that when it came to traditional illustration I was a “B-Lister” at best.  I compensated for that lack  by working extremely hard, but the fact is that when it came to making images my concept always surpassed my execution.

 I’ve never felt that way about my writing – not that I am cocky about it, just confident. It helped that during all those years focused on images I never completely stopped crunching words:

  • I’ve kept the same journal going consistently from 1972
  • I’ve edited newsletters in just about every religious or secular organization I’ve belonged to.
  • In the service  was the “go-to” guy for writing recommendations for awards and fitness reports.

 …and I borrowed a tool from my image-maker tool kit.  I work hard at my craft. While he might not seem the most obvious choice, Teddy Roosevelt has always been an inspiration for me in the way he fought his childhood weaknesses with hard work and a vigorous life style. As an artist I knew that my only compensation of lack of talent was hard work. If a classmate spent three hours on a project I spent six. If a competing illustrator put twenty hours into a cover I’d spend thirty or forty.  While I don’t spend quite so many hours on my work now, most of what I publish (especially the autobiographical stories) is the product of careful craftsmanship and word-crunching.

 It may be that I overwork my word-crunching at times. I do know that it slows down my output which isn’t a problem until I get sick and lose a week or two, at which point I start to lose followers as well. My original intent with the blog was to have kind of an  A/B schedule, with the “A” stories extensively crafted multi-page productions and the “B” stories  being made up of shorter more off-the-cuff observations.

 Maybe I need an A/B/B/A schedule….but as I’ve already weathered the disco storm once, so on that note I will wish you a good day.

( If you were born after 1970 you probably won’t get the joke…)

Laptops, Hacky-sacks and Soda Straws

Keeping this page going is like kicking a Hacky-Sack. As long as I keep busy and frequently add words and images I attract views and followers. Unfortunately there are times in my life now where writing is not quite – but almost as impossible as keeping a little leather packet full of rice in the air. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I deal with severe autoimmune problems, that between ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis the simple act of walking can sometimes defeat me.  What I haven’t been as open about  is the running gun battle I have with upper respiratory infections. It’s not unusual for me to have up to six cases of bronchitis a year; I’ll spend three weeks fighting the sickness only to get sick again only three weeks after I get better.  To put it bluntly I spend most of my time feeling like I am trying to breathe through a soda straw.

 Both the inflammatory diseases and respiratory problems stem from questionable medical practices of the mid-20th century.  I’m a thymus baby – as an infant I had an enlarged thymus which was thought to cause SIDS ( Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) The condition was called status thymicolymphaticus and while that is now an obsolete term it didn’t keep the doctors from removing that pesky gland with a series of hard x-ray treatments in 1953. The practice was discontinued not long after my treatment – a small comfort now that I’ve lived 64 years with a compromised immune system.

 It’s frustrating because I did everything right in terms of healthy living and I still ended up in the cross-hairs of a disease I didn’t even know about until I was almost fifty. It’s frustrating because I have a healthy dose of transpersonal commitment, a genuine desire to help those around me and other than call friends there’s not much I can do.

…so I write. I hope that I will some up with something that will bring insight, comfort or just a laugh to others. Unfortunately there are times when I can’t even do that (write) and I just have to hope that you’ll all hang around until I can get back to the keyboard.

 

 

2018: Stumble Fairy (Color Version)

2018-09-03 StumbleFairyColor0002Long before I was a college professor, design professional or military officer I was a working man. I worked as a janitor, a grocery clerk, roofer,  carpenter,  ranch hand, firefighter,  landscaper,  inventory recorder,  oil field hand and general maintenance worker for an apartment complex. Other than during my time in the oil industry  I was paid a fairly modest wage, but it never occurred to me to cop an  attitude about my situation…and I don’t recall being on the receiving end of the grief customers heap on people working in the service sector in the new millennium.

What the h*ll happened?

(At this point you’re probably wondering if

  • Did I remember to take my meds today?
  • What does this have to do with the color image I’m posting today.)

Usually I get my copy work done at the local Office Max by a young lady names Sarah, who is has a professional mind-set much like my friends and I had back in the Seventies. Sarah has a BFA in graphic design and is working on another related degree  – and while others a similar situation have acted as though the job is a major step down Sarah always turns in outstanding work. I do what I can to help her out but company policy forbids tips and there are only so many times I can file one those good service nomination forms for her.

However, there is one other way I can show my thanks, and that’s by telling you that she did NOT make the color copy/scan I’m posting today. Sarah has weekends off but I wanted to appease my inner OCD demons and show this image today.

(FYI, she made the scan of Stargirl that I put up a day or two ago.)

To be fair this kind of drawing is tough to scan. One slip with that salmon colored ground tone and the whole palette is messed up and it is never easy capturing the subtle nuances of marbilized paper.

In the future I’ll try to time things so Sarah does all my scans in the future…