Thursday, June 05, 2008

Installing a Zipper

In the last few months, I've been getting rid of most of my vinyl. I've been going through it and keeping a handful of old records. One of them is the Phil Ochs Best-of compilation, "Phil Ochs: Chords of Fame"

I have most of the songs on cd's, including a wonderful box set, "Farewells and Fantasies," that came out about ten years ago. The music is not the reason I kept "Chords of Fame"-- the beautiful liner notes are.

The liner notes are by musican/political activist Ed Sanders, one of the founding members of the legendary Fugs. Sanders, who was not given to flowery praise (the Fugs were known for their irreverence and outright crassness). His commentary on Ochs was beautiful and touching. There was one part that has always stayed with me:

"To encounter Phil unexpectedly at a party, or at a riot, or on the street-- what a twinge of happiness."

On Wednesday, it was the second anniversary of the loss of my friend Mark "Atwood" Evans. One of the reasons for starting this blog was dealing with the loss-- his horrific murder in a botched robbery. I had some thoughts on him and what he meant to me.

I met Mark sometime in 1982 or 1983. We would run into one another and end up talking to one another. Finally, one night in 1983, I ran into him at a party and talked to him most of the evening, and realized that we were now friends. Over the next two years, we hung out frequently, and ended up rooming together while I was finishing my graduate work.

Over the years, our friendship grew. Around the time he died, as I looked for photos and mementoes, I came across a letter he'd sent me right after I got out of school. I had also kept the envelope, which he'd drawn and painted in his inimitable and unique style. The letter, sent as he was getting ready to graduate, was all over the place-- complaining about the meterology class he was taken to fulfill a science requirement; mentioning that he'd gotten glasses; mentioning that he'd woken up to discover that his roommate had forgotten to pay the cable bill, and the cable was out; he mentioned that he was reading the book "Megatrends."

Years later, at his funeral, someone mentioned how well-read Mark was, citing "Megatrends." He mentioned that people talked about the book, but Mark was the only one he knew who'd actually read it.

When the group of friends who Mark's parents dubbed "The Chicago Angels" were clearing his house out, Mark's parents told us to take anything that had sentimental value to us. That book was one of the things I grabbed.

Over the years, Mark and I would make plans and get together frequently, but just as often, we'd just run into one another. I remember July 4, 1991 very well. I went down to Grant Park-- the Replacements were playing (it turned out to be their last-ever show). I ran into Mark and a few other friends down there. Over the years, Mark and I roomed together again, had hundreds of great conversations and a hundreds of great times together. Having a planned get-together with Mark was great, but like hearing your favorite song randomly on the radio, it was even more fun when you'd run into him unexpectedly. It was a guarantee of a great evening. He was one of the most unique, funny, intelligent, gentle and giving people I ever knew.

Late last year, the police finally arrested the guy who they pretty much knew had killed Mark. They had to wait until they felt they could get a conviction on the guy. He's being held without bail. That's given us-- his family and friends-- a little bit of healing, but I'm not sure it'll ever completely heal.

A few weeks ago, Alasdair had a brilliant quote that I felt captured how I felt. He was quoting Sherry Potter Walker, a woman who had lost her brother in Laos, during the Vietnam War. She said:

"When you lose somebody close to you, it doesn’t scab over and heal. A zipper is installed. And anytime you come across the memory, it opens up and all of your sadness falls out."

Two years later, I still think of Mark twenty times a day-- a song I hear, a book I see, remembering a snippet of a conversation I had with him. I wish I had a videotape of him-- I wish that just one more time I could hear his high-pitched voice, his goofy laugh, hear him holding forth on some new thing he's interested in or talking about music.

Some time this summer, I'm going to write a check. His family and friends had gathered a sizeable amount of money for a reward for the capture and conviction of the killer. We had agreed early on that if the police either were unable to catch the killer, or captured the killer without the reward being needed, we would use the money to set up a scholarship at Eastern Illinois University, where Mark and most of the rest of us had met, and had some of the best years of our lives. An organization at our old school will administer the scholarship, which will be, at our request, for an art student, like Mark was. The organization, the EIU Foundation, invests the money and uses the interest to fund the scholarship in perpetuity. The money we put together will be enough to fund a $1000 a year scholarship. It's nice knowing that twenty years from now, some struggling art student might be able to stay in school because of the Mark Evans scholarship.

This will be the one and only check ever written from the account I set up two years ago to hold the money we'd collected. After I write it, I'll close the account. And some time this fall, I'm going to go down to the cemetery that his cremated remains are buried at and finally say goodbye.


SkylersDad said...

You know JY, you write so damn well and tell such great stories that it makes me just want to close up shop at my place!

Johnny Yen said...

Don't you dare! I'd miss your writing too much!

Dale said...

What a wonderful tribute that will be. You're a man of honour and worth Johnny Yen.

Alasdair said...

It will indeed, and you are indeed, JY, a good man.

Distributorcap said...

what a great tribute........

what a friend you are....

and phil ochs.......

purplelar said...

Uncle Yen,

The world is definitely a lesser place for those of us who called Mark our friend. I still marvel at the number of people he touched during his too short time on earth.